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Residents blame health issues on mold

Posted: July 17, 2008 12:41 a.m.
Updated: July 17, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Heather Reder has a disease that typically only occurs in those twice her age. Three years ago, a CT scan found nodules on the 24-year-old's throat. The doctors performed exploratory surgery and, when complications arose, the tissue buildup in her throat prevented the doctors from intubating.

Heather now uses a trachea tube to breathe.

Next door, Albert "Mack" McDougal could soon be tested for cancer of the larynx after he lost his voice for five months earlier this year.

After hearing of their problems, Carrie Larson across the street is concerned about a common denominator: They all have mold growing in their homes.

Two of the families that live on Saddleback Ridge Road in Canyon Country have filed a lawsuit against the builder of their houses, Ryland Homes, because of what they consider to be persistent mold problems. The two houses, both built eight years ago, were rebuilt in 2005 to fix the mold problems.

Reder was diagnosed in 2004 with Wegener's granulomatosis, a disease thought to be autoimmune in nature. The Reders know they don't have proof that mold exposure caused the disease, but Heather's mother, Sheri, said she has no doubt that the mold, at the very least, exacerbated the problem.

McDougal was no stranger to health problems. He had been disabled from a car accident and suffered from recurrent infections before the mold problems began.

But McDougal's house is ruining his health, according to his physician.

"Albert McDougal is currently suffering the effects of mold exposure from his home," Dr. Mark Horng said in a letter provided to The Signal by McDougal's attorney. "I have advised Mr. McDougal it is my medical opinion that he should immediately evacuate the home with his family so that we can medically treat the effects from his exposure to that mold."

Horng could not be reached for comment last week.

Although there is little question that mold exposure can trigger an allergic reaction, there is some debate in the medical community as to whether mold exposure can cause more serious health problems. That debate leaves residents wondering just how worried they should be.

"You'd have more of a chance of ketchup causing cancer than mold causing cancer," said Cyrus Rangan, director of toxic epidemiology for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. "It has really become more of a legal problem than it is a medical problem."

Although mold is known to cause allergic reactions such as respiratory problems and sinus issues, that's about where it ends, he said.

For years, people have been claiming that neurological problems and immunologically related problems like bone marrow issues, cancer and liver problems are related to exposure to mold, but Rangan says these claims are unfounded.

He said people first began to connect mold exposure to health problems when they observed farms where large numbers of cows and horses who ate moldy hay began bleeding from their lungs. In some cases, the animals' immune systems would shut down. He said these are the kinds of side effects people imagine when it comes to mold.

"But it's an entirely different kind of route of exposure. With the animals, we're talking about them eating it over a long period of time," he said. "Unless you're licking the mold off the walls, I really can't see a reason why you're going to be getting really severe medical problems, other than respiratory or sinus problems."

He said those with asthma and allergies are likely to experience more of a reaction to the mold.

Cancer patients and those with HIV are likely to suffer from more problems as well.

"But what they're going to be experiencing more is infection with the actual mold," Rangan said. "So it's as if they had a bacterial infection, but it's a fungus infection."

He said that one thing to consider when mold is present in a home is that mold may be a red herring for other problems that might be going on.

He said the conditions that allow mold to grow - such as excess moisture and the presence of organic material - also allow for other things like cockroaches, viruses and bacteria as well.

Rangan admitted that although he doesn't see proof that mold can cause things like cancer, he doesn't know of any proof that says there isn't a link.

"The most important thing a doctor can do is to look at the symptoms you have," he said. "In the end, it's not confirmatory."

McDougal's neighbor Larson, who recently discovered patches of mold growing in her house, said it is the unknown that is so frightening.

"I'm concerned. I don't have proof that anything's related," she said. "I just think it's weird that since we've lived there, both my kids, the doctor said, have an allergy."

She said she has suffered from headaches, eye irritation, a sore throat and fatigue.

"The smell drives me crazy and it gives me headaches. Nobody wants to commit to anything. They don't want to say, 'yes, it's because of that,'" she said. "It could be attributed to maybe a bug or a virus, but it could be because of the mold."


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