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Maryland lawmakers consider bill to regulate mold in schools, rentals

Posted at 5:25 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 17:55:30-05

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — "It took a while for us to figure out what was making us sick but it was our home. It’s my only home. It’s the only place I have. It’s the only place my child have and it should be a law that my home be free of mold and my community be free of mold," said Annapolis renter Heaven White.

White said the mold was evident on the walls and on the floor of her public housing unit, but it wasn't until her children started getting sick that she realized something was very wrong.

"I did miss days from work because my son had to stay home from school because he was having asthma attacks," said White.

Right now, there is no statewide standard for mold testing or remediation and therefore, no protections for renters like White who go through this. Because of the challenges she faced getting her family to a health environment, she is a lead advocate for a bill moving through the General Assembly that would change that for the next family.

"It’s time for us to be able to breathe in peace," said White.

She joined other advocates and the bill's sponsor Del. Shaneka Henson for a press conference calling for the bill's passage.

"We see these patients every day in the emergency room with respiratory distress and asthma exacerbation's related to this," said Dr. Lauren Fitzpatrick, chair of Pediatrics at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

"In later stages of life, when asthma becomes a chronic disease, they end up developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that we see in the elderly so the impact is not only seen on the young but it’s also seen on the adults when they grow up," said Dr. Lenny Nyangwara, director of Pulmonary and Neurodiagnostic Services at Anne Arundel Medical Center.

The Environment - Mold Inspections - Standards, Reporting, and Penalties bill would require local jurisdictions to conduct annual mold inspections for public and private schools, licensed child care centers, nursing homes and rental dwellings. It would also establish standards for identifying and evaluating the presence of mold and remediation.

"We know that we have companies in Maryland who have their own professional guidelines but we know that we have companies in Maryland who are not holding those standards. It is consumer rights issue to make sure that when someone says they are going to remediate mold in your home that you get the service that you pay for and that it is quality service," said Henson.

But the bill comes with a hefty price tag. The Maryland Department of the Environment estimates a $2.7 million increase next year and a minimum $2 million annually thereafter, to hire 28 employees to set up the processes for inspection and verification to enforce the regulations.

In written testimony, MDE said it has some concerns and that the bill would have a substantial impact on the department.

The Department of Legislative Services also estimates a significant increase in spending for local jurisdictions, local health departments who would do the annual inspections and schools who would be required to remediate.

DLS also said there would be a significant impact on small businesses: remediators and testers would benefit while landlords would suffer from the additional expenses.

The bill would also add penalties of up to $250 per violation of the regulations and allows tenants to put their rent in escrow if a landlord fails to comply.

"If we continue as a state to do nothing, what is the cost there? The cost is repeat trips to the emergency room for our children in Maryland. The cost is missed work for parents who are taking them to the emergency room," said Henson. "If we continue to abandon our infrastructure and not remediate mold properly it won’t go away. It simply will have the cost added in other areas in our state. So for me the cost is not the cost of inspecting, the cost is the cost is not doing anything. The cost of inaction is too high a cost to pay."

The House Enrivonment and Transportation Committee is set to have a hearing on this bill sometime Wednesday evening.