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  • Wisconsin Lawyer
    March 31, 2008

    Out of the Dark: The Emergence of Toxic Mold Litigation - Mold in Wisconsin Schools

    Wisconsin law gives little direct guidance to plaintiffs and defendants on determining whether insurance policy exclusion clauses will operate to exclude toxic mold claims. With the rise in toxic mold litigation, perhaps one or more appellate decisions will assist lawyers in advising their clients on the probability of coverage.

    Wisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 75, No. 3, March 2002

    Out of the Dark: The Emergence of Toxic Mold Litigation

    Mold in Wisconsin Schools

    Last August the City of Madison opened the newly constructed Chavez Elementary School. By November several students and teachers were exhibiting upper respiratory symptoms, and school staff members had already taken 23 days of sick leave.1 Environmental consultants soon discovered that the likely cause of these symptoms was the cladosporium, alternaria, and penicillium varieties of mold, which were found behind one-third of the classroom walls.2 The school was closed on Nov. 28 and students were bused to other district schools with the hope that remediation would allow the school to reopen for the spring semester. However, subsequent tests and investigations located additional pockets of mold in the school and forced the district to postpone reopening the school for the rest of the school year. To date, the investigation into the source of the mold has centered on the contractor the district hired to construct the building.3

    Mold concerns have surfaced in at least two other school buildings in Wisconsin. An early learning center in Sheboygan was closed in December to allow the removal of mold from the lower level of the building following a water leak.4 Classes at an elementary school in Coon Valley were relocated after several students and staff complained of headaches, burning eyes, congestion, sore throats, and stomach aches. Environmental specialists are testing for mold as the potential source of these problems.5

    Wisconsin is not alone in confronting mold contamination in its schools. A Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory survey of literature pertaining to schools found that water damage leading to mold infestation was the second most commonly reported facility-related problem.6

    1 Doug Erickson, Teachers Union and District Agree on Chavez Costs, Wis. State J., Dec. 7, 2001, at B1.

    2 Doug Erickson, Board Asked for Chavez Solution, Wis. State J., Jan. 29, 2002, at A1.

    3 Id.

    4 Associated Press, Mold Being Removed at School, Wis. State J., Dec. 24, 2001, at B5.

    5 LaCrosse Tribune, Coon Valley Elementary Will Reopen this Month, Wis. State J., Jan. 2, 2002, at B3.

    6 Joan Daisey & William Angell, A Survey and Critical Review of the Literature on Indoor Air Quality, Ventilation and Health Symptoms in Schools (Berkeley, CA: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, March 1998).

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