Black Mold:  Experts Don't Agree on Mold Study
Reporter: Byron Harris
Updated: Apr 28, 2001 at 11:34AM

DALLAS, Apr 27 

Is the concern over black mold in Texas justified by scientific fact? There were facts that scientists ignored in a critical black mold investigation. 

Seven years ago, Marcia Williams was terrified to see her son Jamal coughing up blood as he lay in a Cleveland, Ohio hospital bed. 

 "He was really sick, and it was really scary," Williams recalled. "It was to the point where we didn't know whether he was going to make it or not." 

Williams wasn't alone. In all, ten infants fell ill in Cleveland during 1993 and 1994. One died. 

A medical SWAT team from the Centers for Disease Control began investigating the homes of the victims to see what they had been breathing. 

The infants lived relatively close together. All were diagnosed with acute pulmonary hemorrhage. Scientists thought they found a clue pointing to the rare illness: 

Stachybotrys. Black mold

Researchers said they found black mold in most of the houses where the sick kids lived. Those findings resulted in what some are now calling a public health panic. 

Assumptions about the dangers of Stachybotrys are costing millions of dollars across the nation and in Texas. The assumptions arose from a study done by the CDC during the initial Cleveland illnesses. 

A News 8 investigation, however, has uncovered questions about the facts and methods of those who did that study for the CDC. 

"Put it under a microscope and take it apart: the king has no clothes. It just doesn't tie together," said Dr. Alan Cohen, a pediatric pulmonologist. 

The questions began over how much black mold was in the homes of the victims. 

Stachybotrys can be found in most garden soil. It's a common fungus. Under some conditions, it produces a toxin that -- when eaten by farm animals -- can lead to death. 

In the Cleveland cases, researchers found airborne black mold in only about half the homes they inspected. 

"We have perpetuated a myth," said microbiologist Miriam Lonon, who has never before spoken publicly about her role in the scientific investigation in Cleveland. 

During a News 8 interview, Lonon said she was brought in early from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. 

"In no case did I find Stachy in the quantity, or in an area where I thought it was likely to result in an exposure to children," Lonon said. 

 That's not what chief investigator Dr. Ruth Etzel wanted to hear, according to Lonon. "I think she had formed a theory of her own," Lonon said. 

An electronic mail message Etzel wrote, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, indicates she ignored Lonon's finding. 

Instead, the chief investigator wrote to colleagues that the infants' "illness was probably caused by a mycotoxin. (Stachybotrys)." 

Did Dr. Etzel enter the study with any preconceived notions? "We had our mind made up that this hypothesis was going to be tested vigorously," Dr. Etzel said. 

Other evidence obtained by News 8 indicates researchers chose to ignore another factor that could have impacted the children: insecticides. 

Etzel says that variable was considered. in the research. "We did pursue it, and we actually brought in industrial hygienists to test in the bedrooms of the babies who became ill," Etzel said. 

But an internal CDC communication obtained by News 8 indicates a roach bomb may have contaminated the bedroom of the baby who died. 

Insecticide was found on his baby rattle, and there were traces of it in the air days after the incident. It was not reported by the CDC. 

The final CDC report on Cleveland said the sick babies were more likely to live in homes with Stachybotrys in them. It also said 90 percent of the sick infants were exposed to smokers at home. 

But in the study, black mold gets the attention. 

"I've seen it in textbooks. I've seen it in all kinds of literature, and it's being perpetuated by scientific investigators," Lonon said. 

Dr. Eduardo Montana was one of the original investigators from the CDC. Now he says it is time to step back and take another look because of questions about reaching a conclusion from such a small sample. 

"This thing has really taken on a life of its own," Montana said. 

Last spring, the CDC essentially retracted its own study. The CDC now says the relationship between black mold and lung problems in Cleveland children was not proven. 

But many experts never heard about that. 

The black mold beat goes on. Oddly enough, hygienists say black mold is not always black. So if you encounter mold around your house you should remain calm and clean it up.

For complete information on toxic mold, see; The world's largest mold web site.