No one likes it. But it is a MUCH bigger health hazard than most people think, affecting many people without them even realizing it.
And when Hurricane Sandy swept through New York, though my home was barely affected, one of my first thoughts after it passed was about mold.
Having suffered through years of black mold in my apartment (due to leaks and retained moisture) I am very aware of the increasing mold problem in any part of America that isn't bone dry. I never really had to deal with mold when I lived in California. But when I moved to NYC I noticed two things: I got upper respiratory infections a lot more often and I had to deal with mold a lot more.
They may even be linked. Turns out allergies and asthma may to a large degree involve our body's reaction to a substance called "chitin." I wrote about this some years back (here's a fairly recent version). Scientists have found that a lot of allergic and asthma responses involve a large up-regulation of a gene called "chitinase" in our bodies...which makes a protein that breaks down chitin. What does chitin come from? Well, many people will think of insects and related arthropods (including things like bed bugs) all of which are encased in chitin. The "skin" of an insect is made of chitin. In fact people who work in crab or lobster processing plants often get severe allergic reactions that involve up-regulating chitinase. However, molds and other fungi ALSO contain a lot of chitin...and my bet is that the reason why allergies and asthma correlate so well with an up-regulation of chitinase is that the increasing mold problem in our damper cities (including NYC) is causing an increase in upper respiratory responses due to inhalation of mold spores which then become chronic allergies or asthma.
Currently a hypothesis, not proven, but a hypothesis that seems increasingly well supported. In fact, according to a 1999 Mayo Clinic study, nearly all chronic sinus infections (afflicting about 37 million Americans) are a result of mold. Again, discussed in more detail in this article, including a discussion of why asthma hits poorer neighborhoods so hard.
Mold, respiratory infections, allergies, asthma...all somehow connected with chitin as one of the links. I have to say that once I was able to get all the leaks in my apartment fixed and I learned how to best battle mold in my apartment (discussed here), my health has improved immensely. I used to have a chronic cough starting with my first cold of the winter and continuing until the next time I visited California. Literally! Now it doesn't really happen and I strongly suspect the mold in my apartment was the major cause of the chronic cough.
Any homeowner can do a lot to deal with mold, sometimes with help, often without it. Again, I have written the solutions that worked for me here and occasionally post it again as a reminder.
But NYC suffered a massive influx of water during Hurricane Sandy. I wrote at the time that in the aftermath mold would be an issue. It seems that at least some politicians in NYC have had the same idea. Bottom line is, if we all, with help from the government, don't work to prevent mold from taking advantage of the moisture Hurricane Sandy threw at us (and some of that moisture is still inside the walls of many buildings), respiratory infections, allergy and asthma will spike in NYC.
I was reminded of all of this by a press release from City Councilmember Lew Fidler. From Lew Fidler's office:
Councilman Lew Fidler Announces Local Trainings on Mold Remediation… and Calls on the Mayor to Help ALL of the Affected Neighborhoods
Councilman Lew Fidler has received word from the Mayor’s Office that training sessions on mold remediation will be held in our community.
“I applaud the Mayor for finally hearing what our communities have been calling for. Gerritsen Beach suffered tremendously in Hurricane Sandy and mold remediation is a real need for the neighborhood. But, I also must request that he bring these trainings to ALL of the communities that were affected by the storm – including both Sheepshead Bay/Plumb Beach and Canarsie. My entire District is on the coastline and the water wasn’t choosy about where it decided to come onto land. So thank you, but more is needed. Everyone needs access to this information and these supplies,” said Councilman Fidler.
So far, two trainings have been scheduled locally. Both information and mold remediation supply kits will be provided:
February 4th, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM - at Gerritsen Beach Fire Department, 43 Seba Avenue
February 13th, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM - at P.S. 277, 2529 Gerritsen Avenue
“Mold remediation has been a real concern from day one,” said Councilman Fidler. “When I held post-storm community meetings, across my District, this was one of the issues that kept getting brought up again and again. We raised it with the City agencies present and we asked them for additional support and I am pleased to see that we are finally receiving it. Mold is a serious long-term health concern and I do not want our community to suffer anymore than it already has. I encourage all of my constituents affected by the storm to attend these meetings.”
For More Information:
Councilman Lew Fidler – (718) 241-9330
I am glad Lew Fidler is on this. I have not heard similar press releases from my local Councilmembers (Levin and Lander) but then again my area didn't get hit so hard. Still, mold WILL still be a problem.
I urge people to pay attention to this issue. Moisture tends to collect and stay within walls for months. When weather gets warmer, mold thrives within the wall. In the worst case scenarios, buildings have had to be condemned because of mold within the walls, sometimes due to one major leak. And many who suffer from chronic allergies, asthma or respiratory infections, may well be suffering partly because of mold in their walls. Pay attention to Lew Fidler's press release and call 311 for more information for what is being done in your area. And for homeowners anywhere, pay attention to my tips for keeping mold at bay. It improved my health!