Some years ago, I was engaged as an expert witness by a law firm in Aberdeen, WA. The problem they were dealing with was mildew attack on the wooden homes throughout the area. They had gathered many experts, including Bill Fiest from USDA Forest Products Lab and a New York City biologist. This was a huge case, with many lawyers and all the experts spending several days visiting the homes with varying degrees of mildew attack.

As part of the discovery process, the paint company formulation was subpoenaed, and the lead lawyer had me spend a day teaching him what all the components were - based on the batch card we had received. The crucial point to my mind was the dosage of the mildewcide. I had also arranged to get individual component documentation from all the suppliers. In that, the mildewcide supplier had a minimum dosage recommendation, and the coating manufacturer had used the minimum recommended.

Some time later, we arranged the deposition of the technical director for the paint company. It turned out he was an old friend, so he was comfortable with me being the advisor to the lawyer asking the questions. As an expert advisor at a deposition, I cannot say anything during the transcription, but I am allowed to write notes to the deposing lawyer advising him of additional questions or emphasis that may cast light on whatever is at issue. When the lawyer's questions got to the amount of mildewcide used, the technical director admitted it was the minimum recommended by the supplier. He also commented that he had recommended to his management that they increase that amount, but was overruled by the president of the company. The cost difference was pennies, and now they faced a huge lawsuit based on performance. Needless to say, the suit was settled almost immediately.

Here we are at least 10 years later, and I am involved with two more mildew lawsuits in California. The problem is similar-type oil-based coatings in coastal southern California, and a separate suit in central California. I have yet to see the formulations for these coatings, but I am willing to bet the amount of mildewcide is the minimum recommended by the supplier.

Given these new problems, I decided to make some noise about them. We recently were at the Northwest Coating Societies' Symposium in Vancouver, B.C. I have been to many of them, sometimes as a reporter for a magazine, and occasionally as a speaker. It is a fun group, and we have a great time. One of their frivolities is a final luncheon wherein there are multiple speakers making points about society or federation. I asserted myself as a speaker and made the comments above as a warning to the paint makers. My point is that if you are making paint for a known high-humidity location, it would be logical to at least double the mildewcide in the formulation. Look at it as an avoidance of complaints and class action lawsuits. It is cheap insurance, and well worthwhile.

For more information, contact Bob Athey at