A few years ago, mold growing in the shower was considered a harmless, if unattractive, fungus and a sure sign that it was time for a good cleaning and some bleach.
Today, an old reason to keep things clean and dry has spun out of control and morphed into mass hysteria of litigation and media hype that has yet to show any foundation in sound science.
Emboldened -- or is that "emmoldened" -- by a $32 million jury award to a family in Dripping Springs, personal-injury lawyers and would-be plaintiffs have developed a thriving new mold litigation business.
And lawyers in California haven't wasted any time in getting in on the mold action. Last year in Sacramento, a jury awarded $2.7 million in an alleged "toxic mold" case.
Since then, lawyers and their highly paid "experts" are convincing many people that they have become ill in the same way. Most recently, Ed McMahon of The Tonight Show and Publishers Clearinghouse fame has joined in claiming mold ruined his home and killed his dog. All the while lawyers continue trolling for clients for this lucrative new cause of action that has many experts calling mold "the next asbestos."
Overlooked so far in the frenzy is the fact that science has found no link between mold and any serious adverse health effects.
The judge in the Dripping Springs case refused to consider health-related claims because there is no scientific proof that mold caused the health problems being alleged.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta states on its Web site that a causal link between mold and "unique or rare health conditions ... " isn't proved. The CDC says common health concerns from molds do include hay-fever-like allergic symptoms.
But who needs proof when you've got inspectors in biohazard suits for photo ops? Personal injury lawyers and the media have combined to fan mold frenzy based on sensationalism rather than fact, and the hype is spurring an entirely new breed of problems for consumers.
Suffice it to say, that while the effects of mold are unclear, the effects of panic-induced lawsuits will become painfully clear as the costs of mold-related lawsuits and settlements will be passed on to homeowners across the nation in the form of increased insurance premiums, increased housing costs and higher rents.
Already, the threat of frivolous construction-defect lawsuits against builders and their projects scare some builders so much that they take their business out of state.
Even the most accessible form of housing -- condominiums and townhomes -- has all but disappeared as an option for working families due to ever increasing lawsuits filed against them.
So what can be done to put the mold frenzy back into proper perspective? A good first step would be to actually examine the science and conduct further study to determine what, if any, adverse health impacts can be directly attributed to mold.
A second step might be to determine what levels of mold are acceptable to the average person -- because, yes, mold has been around for millions of years and it is not likely to go away now.
If common-sense measures could be put into place to look at mold objectively, the public would be the better for it. California last year enacted a Toxic Mold Protection Act to study mold and determine permissible mold exposure limits. Other states with a toxic-mold lawsuit crisis should consider similar legislation.
Until the nation gets a good scientific handle on whether common household mold constitutes a real toxic threat the number of lawsuits will continue to skyrocket.
And businesses and individuals who find themselves on the receiving end of a mold lawsuit will find cold comfort in knowing that their fate will be determined not by fact, but by the latest sensationalist press story.
That being the case, it would be prudent to put all mold-related claims on hold until science can actually point to research and fact that proves mold causes harm.
Otherwise, lawyers with dubious claims will continue to maraud through our legal system, making millions off of questionable litigation that could end up costing Americans plenty.
Vallante is the executive director of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse. He can be e-mailed at