August 27, 2009
|Veterans Target Of Mold Lady|
The woman who thrust herself into the center of the Oak Ridge Elementary School environmental mystery, terrifying parents, is at it again.
Linda May, a self-proclaimed "mold expert" who drove the news coverage of the longstanding health problems at Oak Ridge for weeks, trying to get herself hired as an expert witness and to sell $345 medical tests of questionable validity to worried Oak Ridge parents, has moved on to another target audience: elderly, ailing veterans.
On August 11, May appeared on Veterans for Veteran Connection, an internet radio program, selling the same test kits for Agent Orange exposure. Agent Orange is a pesticide chemically unrelated to mold and was used as a defoliant during the Vietnam War.
On the show, May claimed that the test kits are approved by the US State Department, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). "We are approved to do the testing for Agent Orange T-2 toxin for all government agencies in the US," she said of her company, Warbler of Illinois. T-2 is a toxin found in mold and is chemically unrelated to Agent Orange.
All that sounds impressive, but May, as usual, didn't provide anything to back up either her personal qualifications or the claims she made for the test she is selling. She said the Warbler of Illinois lab is in Pontiac, Illinois, in a secret location. On the show, as in Guilford County, she repeatedly turned down requests to verify her credentials and those of her purported laboratory by saying they were deep government secrets. When she was operating here, she refused to provide her resume, the number of the patent she claims to hold on the urine test, any US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals for the test, or proof of Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) registration for the claimed laboratory – a registration that is required for labs offering medical tests in the United States.
May also claimed that the test would benefit Gulf War veterans, World War II veterans and Korean War veterans. "Same toxin, same test," she said.
That angered some of the listening veterans, who said May was comparing apples and oranges and trying to sell a test to as many veterans as possible, whether or not they were exposed to any chemicals. One veteran said, "I don't think they had problems with an overgrowth of foliage in the Gulf War."
May interjected herself into the Oak Ridge debate this June, calling reporters and parents and identifying herself as "the international mold expert," "the international health and safety expert," a "Department of Defense bioweapon expert" and claiming connections with OSHA and the EPA. She also claimed to be an OSHA-certified mold expert, to have written the OSHA regulations governing mold and chemical contamination in the workplace, and to have secret connections that could get Oak Ridge parents millions of dollars to build a new school. She didn't back up any of those claims with evidence.
May made wild health claims that went far beyond any symptoms actually reported at Oak Ridge, which included headaches, nosebleeds, sore throats and dizziness. She told parents that mold found at Oak Ridge "basically is AIDS by inhalation," and, "You do not expose your child to a room full of cyanide – I'm telling you, you have a room full of cyanide." She also told parents to expect funerals.
At the time, a spokeswoman for OSHA said she could find no record of May being involved in any of the agency's rulemakings, and that OSHA had no certification for mold experts – so May could not be one.
On the radio show, skeptical veterans grilled May about her qualifications and the claims she made for the purported urine test, and the president of a veterans group later said he thinks she's a fake.
"Her laboratory doesn't exist," said Jim Davis, the president of California-based Veterans for Change, which lobbies for veterans benefits. "The test she's trying to sell is only a sterile urine bottle, and you can buy one at any pharmacy for less than $5. This is the third time since we've founded the organization that we've found someone trying to scam veterans. If they're doing harm, we try to stop them."
May's resume lists a bachelor's degree in nursing from Lakeview College of Nursing in Illinois. It also lists an OSHA accreditation as an instructor of construction safety and health, and an OSHA/EPA accreditation as a hazardous materials site manager. None of those claims, even if true, would qualify her to sell medical tests or to act as an expert witness in a lawsuit, and May has provided no example of any lawsuit in which she has acted as an expert witness.
A spokeswoman for OSHA in Washington had already debunked the mold certification, saying it didn't exist. And Jim Barnes, the director of OSHA's Office of Training and Educational Programs, part of the OSHA Directorate of Training and Education in the agency's regional office in Arlington Heights, Illinois, said the other OSHA certifications May has claimed don't exist either.
Barnes said, "OSHA does not accredit nor certify individuals."
The FDA found no listing for May or her company in its approval databases for biological tests.
"As far as we can tell, we haven't cleared or approved any devices or tests like that," said Peper Long, a spokeswoman in the FDA press office. "Nothing that could make those claims. These tests would need CLIA and FDA approval if they were going to be sold to the public. If she is marketing it as FDA approved or FDA cleared, it's not. In general, a medical device isn't legal if it hasn't been approved by the FDA, and it can't be marketed in the US."
There is no listing for Warbler of Illinois or May in the FDA's CLIA database.
Susan Myler, a spokeswoman in the Chicago regional office of the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the CLIA program, said the Warbler of Illinois lab would have to be registered under CLIA.
"That's correct," Myler said. "If they're reporting results back to a clinician, and it evaluates health, it has to be under CLIA."
Myler said the Warbler test could be a case of "sink testing" – so called in the medical industry because they are offered by companies that pour the samples down the sink, then provide whatever test results a person wants, or no results at all. "It's amazing how many people will send $400 to people on the Internet," she said.
There are waivers to the requirements for FDA approval and CLIA registration, and it is conceivable that the Warbler of Illinois test could fall under one of those waivers. But such waivers are public, not secret, and May should be able to provide them if they exist. To date, she has offered neither any approvals nor any waivers, and in an interview with The Rhino Times in June, she seemed to know nothing about the FDA and CLIA approval processes.
May's air of secrecy contrasts sharply with the way legitimate testing laboratories operate – in public. The Warbler of Illinois website lists no address for the company, and May won't identify the site of the laboratory, the company's employees, their qualifications or the methodology of the claimed test.
FDA, OSHA and medical experts asked about testing laboratories said they knew of no cases in which the location of a laboratory was a secret.
Davis, who said he has worked for a company that held Department of Defense (DOD) contracts, said he knew of no cases of such secrecy – and if one existed, he would expect it to be nuclear manufacturing, not urine tests.
"If you're granted a contract, especially with the DOD, there is no language that demands that any laboratory or manufacturing facility remain secret," he said. "It just doesn't happen."
On the radio show, May claimed veterans have won benefits from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, but wouldn't say how many such cases there were, or provide examples, despite repeated questions on that issue from veterans. "I don't keep track of that," she said.
On the radio show, as in Guilford County, May claimed that any profits from the sale of the tests would go to three orders of nuns, which she wouldn't name, because she said the nuns wanted that kept secret. But Warbler of Illinois is registered with the Illinois Secretary of State's Office as a for-profit corporation, and is not on the US Internal Revenue Service list of 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 nonprofit groups. It would be unusual for a corporation whose financial goal was to benefit three orders of nuns to be set up as a for-profit corporation, subject to normal federal and state taxes.
In Guilford County, May claimed that a long-available cholesterol drug could cure the symptoms of toxic mold exposure, and on the radio show, she made the same claim for the same drug for Agent Orange-related illnesses. It's a claim doctors we've talked to have heard nowhere else.
May claimed to have a patent on the test, but searches of the US Patent and Trademark Office database found no patents with May listed as the inventor or assignee of a patent or the legal representative of a patent holder. The database lists two patents under the name "Linda May," one by an Oklahoma woman for a livestock restraining gate and one by a California woman for a face pillow.
An effort to talk to May about her claims was rebuffed. A call to the phone number on her business card, which she identified in June as her cell phone number, and which she answered when she was in Guilford County, was answered by a woman who certainly sounded like May, who The Rhinoceros Times interviewed for an hour in June and who spoke at length at public meetings here. The woman acted as if the phone were an office line.
"She's in a business meeting," the woman said after learning that the call was from The Rhino Times. "She can't come to the phone." Told that her voice seemed recognizable as Linda May, she hung up.
A few minutes later, a man who identified himself as Chuck Marlow, a "gofer" in the company, called back, claiming that the woman who answered the phone was May's sister. He refused to give the company's address or the location of its lab. "I'm not supposed to give out information," he said, also hanging up.
In June, May answered questions about her company not with references to legitimate sources, such as government agencies, physicians or academic studies, but with references to a strange collection of people she said would vouch for her, including her attorney, someone she knew in college and a low-level employee in an Illinois state agency whom she said couldn't talk on the record, because Illinois has a law making it illegal for government employees to talk to the press. Illinois has no such law, which would be unconstitutional on its face.
The mayor of Pontiac, Bob Russell, appeared on the radio show with May and a group of veterans from Pontiac town hall, saying the town had been working with May for months to try to get her to locate a lab there. Russell spoke as if the lab did not yet exist, at least in Pontiac. In a story in the Pontiac Daily Leader on August 12, Russell was quoted as saying Warbler of Illinois had a clean bill of health in regard to government contracts, but didn't specify any contracts the company had.
Contacted later by phone, Pontiac City Administrator Robert Karls angrily refused to answer any questions about May or Warbler.
"We're still in the preliminary stages with her," Karls said. "We deal with companies all the time, and until something is ready to be announced, we don't discuss those things."
May was scheduled to go back on the radio show at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, August 25. Veterans groups were prepared for her this time, and arranged for doctors, people who had researched May's history and a woman who said that May had defrauded her of $1,500 in a California workers compensation case to participate in the show.
May, possibly sensing a backlash, didn't show up to defend herself or her company.