Blog: The Informed Ecologist

Home » Blog

Intro paragraph about the blog

As Number Of Foreclosed Homes Grows, So Does Mold

July 21st, 2011

As huge numbers of foreclosed homes continue to work their way through the real estate pipeline, another problem is blossoming — mold. In most homes, as residents go in and out and the seasons change, natural ventilation sucks moisture up to the attic and out through the roof. It’s called the “stack effect.” And in many parts of the country, it’s driven by air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter. But no one is going in or out of most foreclosed homes — regardless of climate — and the effects can be devastating. In some states, it’s estimated that more than half of foreclosed homes have mold and mildew issues. Realtors across the country say they’re seeing the problem in everything from bungalows to mansions. Bob Bennett runs Farsight Management in northeastern Ohio, specializing in cleaning up water-damaged buildings. A full quarter of his work now comes from moldy, foreclosed homes where the electricity has been shut off. No electricity means no sump pump or dehumidifier for months, even years, and that often means mold — slimy black or green patches creeping up drywall and blanketing bathroom fixtures. “Here, water came out of the sump, and it got underneath the carpet, came over to the wall, and then wicked up the side of the gypsum board, so you can see this banding where the top of the wicking stopped,” he says. It was the middle of winter. There were icicles coming out of the windows above the garage, no heat, but it was 80 degrees inside of the house because it was self-composting.- Realtor Rebecca Terakedis Even minor mold abatement can start at $5,000 and cost much, much more. In this particular case, Bennett estimates a price tag of more than $6,000, plus the cost of new floors, walls and carpet. He wears a head-to-toe protective suit on most jobs. A Manifestation Of The Foreclosure Crisis Realtor Rebecca Terakedis has been showing an increasing number of abandoned, foreclosed and moldy — but otherwise fine — homes to prospective buyers. “I have a release form that I use, and if the property has got a lot of mold in it, I don’t even let my own husband go in it without signing this disclosure because I don’t want the liability,” she says. “I had one really interesting [one]. It was the middle of winter. There were icicles coming out of the windows above the garage, no heat, but it was 80 degrees inside of the house because it was self-composting.” Realtors say they don’t think banks mean to incur thousands of dollars in mold damage just to save on monthly utility bills. But the mold problem appears largely to be a manifestation of the foreclosure crisis. Bills go unpaid, houses sit vacant, and the whole process takes much longer than anyone wants. Ohio Bankers League President Mike Van Buskirk says by the time the banks process foreclosure paperwork, it’s often too late. “There are a lot of steps in government, the courts, county sheriff that are involved in it,” he says. “While it varies across the state, some of them, thinking they’re helping the consumers, are really dragging out the process, so that it can take two or three years.” Realtor Jill Flagg says many lenders won’t sell a home for less than the mortgage note, so the house sits and sits, and it continues to grow mold. “I had an offer on a house with Bank of America where they have agreed to do a short sale, and it’s been over two months, and they haven’t even responded to the offer,” she says. “They don’t have enough staff to move it along — too backed up. They don’t have enough qualified people who know what they’re doing, and, you know, it’s in a pile somewhere.” Charges of faulty paperwork have slowed the pace of foreclosures in recent months, and that may be exacerbating the mold problem as those houses sit and bake through the long, hot summer.    

Greener, pricier furniture: Formaldehyde use will be limited under a new law

July 25th, 2010

Not too long ago, many mass-market furniture makers weren’t all that interested in the no-formaldehyde-added wood that Todd Vogelsinger was trying to sell them from Columbia Forest Products.

 After all, consumers and regulators weren’t exactly demanding that furniture be formaldehyde-free.That’s about to change.A law signed this month by President Barack Obama limiting the amount of formaldehyde in wood is expected to lead to higher furniture and cabinet prices, but healthier — and greener — homes. It’s also likely to increase consumer awareness of a little-known chemical and its effects.Formaldehyde, which is used in many building materials, is linked to cancer and has long been known to cause respiratory problems.The government-provided trailers for victims of Hurricane Katrina were banned because of breathing problems caused by formaldehyde in the walls, ceilings and cabinets. The trailers reignited controversy this month when it was revealed some were being used to house BP oil spill cleanup workers.Particle board, which is created using sawdust, wax and formaldehyde-based glue, is often used in inexpensive furniture and cabinets and can contain high formaldehyde levels. It will be virtually impossible for manufacturers and retailers of these low-priced products to avoid raising prices, experts say, because their products use so much particle board. But it could be at least three years before all furniture sold must meet the new limits.“We’re hearing from suppliers of particle board that the costs will increase, and that’s likely to be passed along,” says Andy Counts, CEO of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, whose members make about half the furniture sold in the U.S.Those who make particle board and other “composite wood products are going to have to experiment with new technologies, and that always involves a learning curve that increases costs initially.”

Some Chinese plywood, also used in low-priced furniture, also can contain high levels of formaldehyde to compensate for excessive moisture during production. Domestic hardwood plywood, considered to be among the highest-quality materials available to make furniture and cabinets, is dried using costlier techniques that eliminate the need for glue containing formaldehyde to bond the plies.

The new federal law is based on California’s standard limiting the formaldehyde in wood and follows years of debate about the risks associated with formaldehyde and the ability of industry to reduce its reliance on it.  Furniture industry officials have been bracing for the new law and were relieved the levels required matched the California law.But given the recession’s impact on the furniture business, industry officials have been pushing to get as long as possible — as much as three years — after new rules implementing the law take effect to sell furniture and cabinets that don’t comply. While the risks of formaldehyde were greater in the hot enclosed spaces of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Katrina trailers, environmentalists and safety advocates say there are serious health threats because of the extensive use of formaldehyde in homebuilding materials and furnishings.Counts says he’s heard estimates that prices for plywood and particle board could increase from 315 percent but notes that this wood is only a small part of the total cost for a piece of finished furniture.Becky Gillette, the Sierra Club’s Formaldehyde Campaign director, predicts the added cost to consumers because of the law “is going to be very low” and says “it will be overwhelmingly justified by the health benefits.”Some elderly Medicaid recipients have seen their health bills rise by up to $50,000 a year after moving into trailers made with materials with high formaldehyde levels, she says.Along with links to cancer, the Environmental Protection Agency says exposure to high levels of formaldehyde can cause watery eyes, burning sensations in the eyes and throat, nausea and difficulty in breathing. That can occur, the EPA says, at levels above 0.1 parts per million; the agency says that in homes with “significant amounts of new pressed-wood products” levels can be greater than 0.3 ppm. Because formaldehyde is released more quickly when it’s hot and humid, the EPA recommends using air conditioning and dehumidifiers to maintain moderate temperatures and humidity levels and keeping homes well ventilated.The EPA, which has to write the rules for the new law, will decide how quickly merchandise in stores has to comply and how products need to be labeled to show they’re in compliance.“It’s going to be very challenging (for consumers) to identify product with lower formaldehyde,” Counts says.California officials just extended the deadline until Dec. 31, 2011, for stores in that state to sell furniture and cabinets that surpass formaldehyde limits.Vogelsinger, who is marketing director for Columbia Forest Products in Greensboro, N.C., says 800 furniture and cabinet makers use his company’s no-formaldehyde-added hardwood plywood and 1,700 Home Depot stores stock it, as well.These manufacturers recommend consumers ask retailers about the formaldehyde content of the furniture and cabinets they sell and if they have a green option available. Armstrong Cabinets, for example, sells the Origins line, which has no formaldehyde added.

Jury awards $2.4M in first Chinese drywall trial

June 19th, 2010

A Florida couple who fled their dream home because of foul-smelling, ruinous Chinese drywall was awarded $2.4 million in damages Friday in the nation’s first jury trial over the defective wallboard that could have legal ramifications for thousands of similar cases.

 The six-person jury ruled that Armin and Lisa Seifart should receive more than just the costs of gutting and renovating their home: they were also awarded damages for loss of enjoyment of the $1.6 million house and for the drywall stigma that might reduce its resale value.

 The defendant, drywall distributor Banner Supply Co., is named in thousands of other lawsuits. Attorneys in those cases, as well as many others pending nationwide against other companies, will look to the Seifart damage award as a guide for what kinds of damages they seek.

 Defective, sulfur-emitting Chinese drywall has been linked to possible health problems along with a noxious odor, corrosion of wiring, plumbing, computers, plumbing and jewelry. Most of the problems have arisen in Florida, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana in homes built during the housing boom and some damaged during the busy 2005 hurricane season.

 The Seifarts, who have two young sons, left their five-bedroom home in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood last year so it could be gutted and renovated. Their attorney, Ervin Gonzalez, said the couple was not told of problems with the Chinese drywall in March 2008 when they moved in.

 “Their dream home turned into a nightmare,” Gonzalez said.

 The Seifarts accused Banner of concealing knowledge it had as early as 2006 that Chinese drywall was defective, including recommendations from manufacturer Knauf

Plasterboard Tianjian that the wallboards should not be used. Many of those details emerged in this trial after a confidential agreement between Banner and Knauf was unsealed.

 “It was important to send a message to companies that they should do the right thing when the health of the public is at stake,” said Armin Seifart after the verdict.

 “I feel that justice was done,” added Lisa Seifart.

 Banner attorney Todd Ehrenreich said an appeal would be considered.

 “We’re very disappointed in the verdict,” he said.

 During the trial, Banner acknowledged bearing some responsibility but fought against paying the Seifarts more than their direct expenses. Company attorneys said the drywall problem in 2006 was limited to a handful of homes in Florida out of some 2,700 built and that it took time for the extent of the damage to become clear.

“That defect was hidden, latent and undetectable,” said Ehrenreich in closing arguments. “It doesn’t rear its ugly head until sometimes years later.”

The jury found that Banner was 55 percent liable for the Seifarts’ problems and that Knauf and two related entities bore the rest of the responsibility. That could reduce the Seifarts’ ultimate payout because Knauf was not a defendant in their case, but Gonzalez said he will push to have Banner pay the full $2.4 million.

The Miami case follows a Louisiana federal judge’s decision in April to award $2.6 million in damages to seven families in Virginia for bad Chinese drywall. In that case, the Chinese entities who were sued never responded in U.S. court, leaving in limbo how the damages might be collected.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has recommended removing any tainted drywall and affected wiring, fire alarm systems and gas pipes.

Chinese Drywall Maker Reaches Settlement

May 20th, 2010

 If walls could talk, the ones in your new home might say “thank you.” Especially if they are sulfur-oozing, health-hazardous ones manufactured in China.In a move to quell the controversy over homes built with defective drywall, Knauf Plasterboard Tianjin Co., a German-owned exporter of the Chinese-made product, has reached a settlement with Atlanta-based builder Beazer Homes USA, Inc., reports The Wall Street Journal.

This agreement is the first of around 200 lawsuits filed against Knauf for its faulty drywall, as the company races to keep the matter out of court.

As home construction surged during the boom, Knauf’s product, which is also called gypsum board, was imported and slapped into the construction of many residences across America.
Now U.S. homeowners — many of whom paid top price — and their home-builders have discovered that the drywall is emitting hazardous sulfur-like odors, corroding metal and causing health problems. The builders are facing lawsuits, and in turn have sued the product’s manufacturers and others associated with it.
According to the Journal, Beazer disclosed in its quarterly report that there are approximately 50 homes in Southwest Florida where the drywall was installed, and the company is setting aside close to $27 million toward the problem. Lennar Corp., another builder embattled in the mess, has allocated $81 million to fix about 750 Florida homes.

In an average home, the estimated expense to extricate the defective drywall and cover related damage to electrical wiring and appliances is $100,000. According to the consulting firm Towers Watson, the U.S. has incurred total costs ranging somewhere from $15 billion to $25 billion.

And this figure may stem from the number of individuals affected.

Approximately, 3,300 complaints from 37 states have been filed with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. But despite allegations implicating the company nationwide, Kerry Miller, a partner at the New Orleans law firm Frilot LLC which is representing Knauf, said the origins of the drywall will have to verified as a Knauf product.

“We have a lot of people calling and saying we have drywall that says “Made in China” on it and they assume that it’s ours,” said Miller. “But it’s not necessarily ours.”

Miller added that Knauf is in negotiations with six to 10 other builders, who used the material in U.S. home constructions, and that further settlements are imminent within weeks.

If you’re contemplating the purchase of a new home built by one of these companies, find out the source of the drywall before going to contract.

Indoor air kills 2.2 million young Chinese: report

May 18th, 2010

More than two million Chinese youths die each year from health problems related to indoor air pollution, with nearly half of them under five years of age, state media cited a government study as saying.The study released by the China Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said indoor pollution levels can often be 5-10 times higher than those measured in the nation’s notoriously bad outdoor air, the China News Service said.This indoor pollution causes respiratory and other conditions that kill 2.2 million youths each year, one million of whom are under the age of five, the report said, citing the study released on Sunday.AFP was not immediately able to obtain a copy of the study.The study said dangerous indoor pollutants include formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia and radon.It said formaldehyde posed the biggest threat. It is often found in building materials and new furniture in China and can be slowly released into indoor environments over the course of several years.It said long-term exposure to such substances can cause a range of health problems including respiratory diseases, mental impairment and cancer, with young children, foetuses in utero and the elderly at most risk.China’s massive economic expansion of the past three decades has made it one of the world’s most polluted countries as environmental and health concerns are trampled amid an overriding focus on industrial growth.Countless cities are smothered in smog while hundreds of millions of citizens lack access to clean drinking water.A 2007 World Bank report said 750,000 Chinese die prematurely each year due to air and water pollution — a figure edited out of final versions of the report, reportedly after China warned it could cause social unrest.

Drill Baby Drill to Spill Baby Spill

May 17th, 2010

As a chemical scientist and a manufacturer of Specialty Chemicals  we are very disappointed in the dollars saving design the industry employed. The catastrophic explosion that caused an oil spill from a BP offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico is on track to become the worst oil spill in history, surpassing the damage done by the Exxon Valdez tanker that spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the ecologically sensitive Prince William Sound in 1989. Unlike the Exxon Valdez tragedy, in which a tanker held a finite capacity of oil, BP’s rig is tapped into an underwater oil well and could pump more oil into the ocean indefinitely until the leak is plugged. (In 1855, the Dwamish Chief Seattle, of Washington Territory, sent the following letter to President Franklin Pierce. Not surprisingly, his powerful plea was ignored by Pierce, and every President to follow. Now, we need, more than ever, a president who will listen to Chief Seattle’s simple words.)

To the Great Chief in Washington,

We know that the white man does not understand our ways. One portion of the land is the same to him as the next, for he is a stranger who comes in the night and takes from the land whatever he needs. The earth is not his brother but his enemy, and when he has conquered it, he moves on. He leaves his father’s grave, and his children’s birthright is forgotten.

The sight of your cities pains the eyes of the red man. But perhaps it is because the red man is a savage and does not understand. There is no quiet place in the white man’s cities. No place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insect wings. But perhaps because I am a savage and do not understand, the clatter only seems to insult the ears.

The Indian prefers the soft sound of the wind itself cleansed by a midday rain, or scented by a Pinion pine. The air is precious to the Redman. For all things share the same breath: the beasts, the trees, and the man.

The white man does not seem to notice the air he breathes. Like a man dying for many days, he is numb to the stench.

I have seen thousands of rotting buffaloes on the prairie left by the white man who shot them from a passing train. I am a savage and do not understand. What is man without the beasts? If all beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beast happens also to the man.

This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man does not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Our children have seen their fathers humbled in defeat. Our warriors have felt shame. It matters little where we pass the rest of our days; they are not many. A few more hours, a few more winters, and none of the children of the great tribes that once lived on this earth will remain to mourn the graves of a people once as powerful and hopeful as yours.

But even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all; we shall see. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover: our God is the same God. You may think that you own him as you wish to own our land, but you cannot. He is the Body of man, and his compassion is equal for the red man and white. This earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator.

The whites too shall pass, perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.

But in your perishing you may shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery for us, for we do not understand when the buffalo are slaughtered, and the wild horses tamed. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt? The end of living and the beginning of survival.

We might understand if we knew what it was the white man dreams, what hopes he describes to his children on long winter nights, what visions he burns into their minds, so they will wish for tomorrow. But we are savages. The white man’s dreams are hidden from us. And because they are hidden we will go our own way.

If we sell you our land, love it as we have loved it. Care for it as we have cared for it. Hold in your memory the way the land is as you take it. And with all your strength, with all your might, with all your heart, preserve it for your children and love it …. as God loves us all.

One thing we know. Our God is the same God. This earth is precious to Him. Even the white man cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all.

Meth houses need to be decontaminated

May 17th, 2010

Health and law enforcement officials across the country are becoming increasingly alarmed at the number of homes being sold that were once used as meth houses or laboratories. The problem developing is that former homes where meth was either used or manufactured are in fact health hazards to anyone currently residing in them due to the residual poisons that were soaked into the walls, window treatments and flooring.

Health officials say the number of people incurring health issues is constantly increasing to the point where several states are beginning to pass laws that require a home seller to disclose if the house was ever involved with meth at any level.For every pound of meth that was cooked in a home, five to seven pounds of chemical waste products are created. From this waste, a variety of long term health problems can occur including but not limited to: headaches, blisters, damaged lungs, liver or kidneys.In the case of very young children crawling around on a floor soaked with meth byproducts or picking up objects and putting them in their mouths, brain damage may develop.In 2005, nearly 17,000 homes were seized by authorities (many ending up in foreclosure) and unknown to those subsequently purchasing these homes, the families inhabiting them are exposed to the dangers of the toxic chemical waste left behind.

While at this time there are no federal guidelines for cleanup of these materials, in 12 states (Arizona included), it is illegal to occupy a dwelling before it’s been decontaminated.However, in most states there are few protections in place.Fourteen states (including Arizona) require property owners to disclose if the property offered was a former drug house and 13 states (Arizona being one of them) have actually established a guideline for cleanup.The cost of cleaning and decontaminating a former meth lab is astronomical. It can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 to complete. Unfortunately, with no federal assistance in place, the price tag is up to the property owner to absorb.

Right now there are literally tens of thousands of contaminated residences across the United States. Living in one of these former drug houses can very easily cause a family to face financial ruin between having to pay for any possible cleanup, developing health-related illnesses and having to throw away any personal possessions that can’t be cleaned. Add to that the cost of acquiring another residence and then moving. It is a nationwide nightmare.Currently the national Jewish Medical and Research Center is conducting a study on the impact of meth labs. In the meantime if you are considering a home purchase, do your research!

Chinese drywall may drag

May 16th, 2010

Chinese drywall problems in Parkland could soon lead to even lower property values for homes in the city.

The Broward Property Appraiser’s Office has received applications for property value reduction from 115 homeowners in Parkland dealing with Chinese drywall. If all the homeowners get the reduction they are looking for — 89 have already had their building value reduced 50 percent — the total value of the homes will go down more than $30 million.“This is affecting every Parkland resident,” said John Willis, a member of the Chinese Drywall Task Force. “The Broward Property Appraiser’s Office reduces building value by 50 percent for homes that have Chinese drywall. The total value of the homes was $74,285,860. The value after reduction, if all applications are approved, will be $43,917,800 [so] the total loss of taxable value will be $30,368,060.”

Chinese drywall ruinous to local families

May 16th, 2010

The acrid odor from behind their walls at times made them sick, and something seemed to be etching their chandeliers, piping and jewelry.

Cynthia Scott said she suffered nosebleeds while pregnant with her son, now 2, who had to be rushed to the emergency room twice during coughing fits.

Everyone in the family of five, including two older children, suffered headaches.

Then they came to suspect the cause: Chinese drywall. They had it inspected and moved out of the Brookhaven home they bought for $231,000 in 2006.

“I think I’ve cried every tear I could cry,” said Scott, a paralegal. Her husband, Jonathan, is a sales representative. “It’s been very devastating.”Now, the Scotts have joined about 2,000 others who are suing in federal court for compensation from the companies that made, distributed and built with the wallboard — imported during the rush of construction in the housing bubble and after the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005.The most recent data show as many as 20 reports of suspected Chinese drywall in Brevard County and more than 600 statewide. Experts fear the number could grow to more than 25,000 in Florida alone, based on the amount imported.

Since moving from their home in December, the Scotts pay $1,200 in rent each month. For now, they’ve stopped paying their $2,200 monthly mortgage payment, which they’re trying to negotiate down.

After the housing bust, their home is valued at a little more than $128,000.And the Scotts said Chinese drywall gutted the value further. It would cost upwards of $100,000 to tear the house down to the studs, replace the drywall, wiring, plumbing and other items needed to clear up the problem. That doesn’t include rebuilding.They said corrosive wallboard caused their air conditioner’s copper coils to blacken and the refrigerant to constantly leak — telltale signs that the gypsum in their drywall came from China. They said they had inspections that prove it.But their insurance company turned down their claim.

So far, the Scotts are the only confirmed case of Chinese drywall in Brevard, according to the property appraiser’s office. Several others have inquired, staff members said, but no one has applied yet for the adjustment to their taxes because of bad drywall that the appraiser offered in October.

The Scotts took the first step by signing a form declaring their intent to rebuild and reoccupy the house because of Chinese drywall. They can get the house dropped to salvage value, about $4,000 to $5,000, to save them money on taxes until the matter is resolved, Cynthia Scott said.

Why it’s a problem

As of January, the Consumer Product Safety Commission had received more than 2,800 reports from residents who suspect that their health symptoms or corrosion of metal parts in their homes are linked to drywall made in China. Almost 60 percent of those, about 1,600, were in Florida.

As of Feb. 1, there were more than 660 cases from 30 counties reported to the Florida Department of Health, including the 20 in Brevard.

But the problem could be much bigger, based on the more than 400 million pounds imported into the state since 1999, said Rob Crangle, a minerals commodity specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

A 2,000-square-foot house uses, on average, about 16,000 pounds of drywall, so as many as 25,000 homes in Florida may be infected.“I think these will continue to trickle in for a long time,” Crangle said. “It still amazes me that that much wallboard came from China to begin with.”

Much of the gypsum produced in the U.S. that goes into drywall is derived from high-sulfur coals from the Appalachian basin that burn in power plants, Crangle said. It comes from scrubbers that inject limestone slurry used to remove sulfur gases from smokestacks, after fly ash is removed. Sulfur gets baked out of that “synthetic” gypsum.

Most gypsum imported into the U.S. comes from Canada and Mexico. Chinese drywall imports spiked between 2003 and 2008, especially when construction demand peaked.

The problematic drywall is thought to trace back to a few mines in China with higher than usual sulfides.

Owners describe a “rotten egg” sulfur smell and a slew of chronic symptoms, including respiratory irritation, headaches, sinus and eye pain and nosebleeds. But almost a quarter of the homes have no odor.

It wasn’t long after the Scotts bought their home that they noticed a strong acidic smell.

“We always smelled something in the one bathroom ever since we moved into the house,” Scott said.

They had their air conditioner repaired three times in two years. The last time, a repairman found the blackened copper coils in their unit. He asked if they knew about Chinese drywall.

They found similar tainted copper piping throughout the house.Scott said her family hired an inspector they found on the Internet who didn’t seem to know much about the problem but charged almost $300, telling them they may have issues with air-quality control.They got a second opinion from Mark Levy of Associated Environmental Consulting Group of Palm Bay, who offered to inspect the house for free. He pulled out the outlets and looked at the air conditioner and electrical panel. Without sampling, he knew what it was, he said.The dark-black hue of the copper gave away the precise chemical reaction seen only with the corrosive compounds common in Chinese drywall.“It’s textbook; it’s indicative of a reactive drywall problem,” Levy said.But specific protocols of proving corrosive Chinese drywall are a work in progress, with federal agencies continuing to study causes and health effects.Scott said her family’s ailments vanished when they weren’t at home. “It seemed like every time we walked out of the house, within a few hours, we’d feel fine,” she said.Taking actionU.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, wants the Consumer Product Safety Commission to create drywall safety standards to prevent a repeat of the problem. He also prodded the Internal Revenue Service last year to allow affected owners to qualify for special tax deductions.

U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, co-sponsored the Drywall Safety Act of 2009, which further researches bad drywall and extends an interim ban on importation.

“There’s so many unknowns right now that it’s hard to get your arms around it,” Posey said. “This stuff is like a time bomb. They don’t all go off at the same time.”

In December, the U.S. House passed a nonbinding resolution co-sponsored by Posey to encourage banks and mortgage service providers to delay foreclosures without penalty on payments to home mortgages.

But that’s not much solace for the Scotts. For now, it’s a sit-and-wait situation for them and thousands of others as the legal system takes over.On Friday, the first test case in lawsuits over Chinese drywall began in U.S. District Court in New Orleans. The hearing will set repair standards for homes to guide similar cases.

Bill Cash, the Pensacola attorney representing the Scotts, wouldn’t disclose how many plaintiffs his firm represents in the drywall case. But he said the nationwide toll could be as high as 100,000 properties.

The timeline and outcome are uncertain, he said, given some of the drywall companies’ ties to the Chinese government.“It will depend on if we can bring enough of these defendants to the table,” Cash said.Scott said her family lives paycheck to paycheck.“I have to trust in my faith and trust the God I serve is going to come through for me,” she said. “I also have faith in our legal system.”

‘Highly Virulent’ Strain of Killer Fungus Found in Ore.

April 23rd, 2010

(April 22) — A potentially life-threatening new type of fungus has been discovered in Oregon, and experts are warning that it could soon spread into neighboring regions.

The pathogen is a strain of Cryptococcus gattiiC. gattii for short — and appears to have a death rate of around 25 percent among those infected, although researchers have only evaluated 18 human and 21 animal cases, all of which occurred between 2005 and 2009.

Their study is published in this week’s issue of PLoS Pathogens.  Edmond Byrnes, Joseph Heitman / mgm.duke.eduCryptococcus gattii spreads by airborne spores. Symptoms include chest pain, a persistent cough and breathing problems.Experts are particularly concerned because the fungus, which infects via airborne spores, seems to affect otherwise healthy individuals. Pathogens like C. gattii are usually only a problem for those with a compromised immune system, such as transplant recipients and HIV/AIDS sufferers.

“Overall it’s a pretty low threat, and it’s still uncommon in the area, but as the range of the organism expands and the number of cases increases accordingly, it’s becoming more of a concern,” Edmond Byrnes III, a doctoral student in molecular genetics and microbiology at Duke, told CNN.

When the fungal spores are inhaled, they lodge in the lungs and respiratory tract. Symptoms, which can take months to appear, include a persistent cough, chest pain and difficulty breathing.

C. gattii is one species of Cryptococcus, a fungus usually associated with bird droppings. In humans, Cryptococcus neoformans infection is relatively common among HIV patients, who are therefore advised to avoid areas with lots of birds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Until 1999, C. gattii was isolated to tropical regions. Then cases began popping up in the Pacific Northwest, including an outbreak on Vancouver Island that killed 9 percent of the 200 people believed to have been infected.

Experts suspect the original strain was imported via foreign plants and that this latest C. gattii mutation, described as “highly virulent,” is a new occurrence.

It’s unclear what factors might predispose a seemingly healthy person to infection. Young and old, male and female, smoker and nonsmoker — all seem to be at equal risk. And while it’s well known that C. gattii can be found in trees, it’s unknown whether an individual needs to breathe air near a tree to get sick.

“Our best guess is that it’s mostly associated with trees and soil, so certain disturbances might allow the organism to become airborne and more or less float in the area,” Byrnes said.

Person-to-person transmission doesn’t seem to be a problem. That’s good news, although experts can’t offer much advice in terms of prevention, and the study notes that treatment, which relies on anti-fungal medication, can take years.

Moreover, “physicians could potentially miss the diagnosis,” Karen Bartlett, an environmental hygienist with the University of British Columbia, told Science News, while adding that the infection is still quite rare.

A working group of doctors and public health officials has already been formed in the Pacific Northwest, and the study’s authors are calling for ongoing research and monitoring to stave off the spread of the fungus.  

http://www.aolnews.com/science/article/highly-virulent-strain-of-killer-fungus-found-in-oregon/19451049