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Mold May Pose Risk to Hurrican Victims

I’m trying to do this gently because…I don’t think it’s airborne but….

When hurricane Sandy surged into Laura Erickson’s home, more than a foot of water soaked her floors and walls. But now, it’s the damage that she can’t easily see that scares her: mold damage. And there’s a trace of it on her wedding pictures. And I just hope I don’t find anymore. That’s the scary thing about the mold. You know, all of a sudden, you don’t think it’s there, and you pick something up, and it’s underneath.

In 1984, Laura and her husband Pat bought their home here in Island Park, Long Island from her parents. They rode out hurricane Gloria the next year, a Noreaster in 92, Hurricane Irene last year—all without ever being flooded—until Sandy.

The Ocean, she reeled her ugly head and she wasn’t happy about anything. She had no sense of humor and she just took everything. Now, environmental technicians are looking for tiny green splotches—the first signs of mold growth. . Mold can trigger allergies and asthma attacks, especially among those with compromised respiratory systems.

“Mold growth on the side. That’s why I have to take this sheet rock out of here. We’ll get this cleaned up before it really has a chance to penetrate into the wood. Getting the sheet rock out of this wall, getting the insulation out of this wall cavity, will enable us to put a dehumidifier and start drying out this wood while its still capable of being dried out without getting moldy.“

Mold, which is a fungus, grows best when there’s a moisture source, in this case a flood, and a nutrient source, that’s anything organic from furniture to fiberboard cabinets to the paper on sheet rock. The first molds usually appear 48-72 hours after a flood. Black Mold, known as stachybotrys, shows up a week or two later.

“The important thing is for homeowners to get rid of the sheet rock now before the mold starts to grow and become a mold hazard.”

The city advises homeowners to clean damaged items with soap and water, or to remove them if they cannot be dried out. Experts say it’s essential to wear proper masks—they’re called M95 masks—and gloves, when cleaning.

Interestingly, since Hurricane Sandy, New York’s 311 services has received less than half the number of calls about mold it normally gets in a month.  But officials predict the problem could get worse.

It may be that cold weather is deterring some mold growth. But I expect that we will absolutely have mold growth in areas that have not dried out, haven’t been ventilated. We may yet discover then when people reoccupy their buildings.

The good news for the Erickson’s is that the inspectors have not found much. “The sheet rock’s been wet for two weeks, the wood’s been wet for two weeks, and still we have no significant mold growth here.” Industrial hygienist Bill Sothern believes that the salty water that flooded the Erickson’s home may actually be having an inhibitory effect on mold growth. Still, the Erickson’s faced enormous mold remediation costs—$20,000 on the low end—only some of which will be covered by insurance. “Once it’s all put back together we have to seriously consider what we want to do for the future.”

“Yeah, move maybe. I never thought I’d say that in my whole life. I mean, we watch the seals come through here. You know, the ocean always looks different—it’s so beautiful. But I would never ever want to go through this again.


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