Lawmakers are calling on the federal government to help combat mold infestations in Long Island homes flooded by Superstorm Sandy, leaving some houses uninhabitable.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and county leaders are asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to prepare plans that will assist homeowners remediate the hazardous mold once Congress approves funding for the program.
“Mold is causing a second wave of destruction among Superstorm Sandy victims, rendering houses unhealthy and unlivable even after the water has been pumped out,” said Schumer during a news conference Tuesday.
Federal Emergency Management Agency resources cannot be used to remove mold from houses entirely under current law, only mold up to the watermark from the flooding, the senator said. He said the Sandy aid package working its way through Congress should remedy that, but that immediate aid is crucial.
“The longer we wait, the longer these homes lie vacant,” said Schumer at the Seaford home of Larry Elliott, 85, who is among the homeowners in dire need of financial assistance for mold remediation.
Elliott’s home, which he had lived in for 30 years until being displaced by Sandy, is right on canals that lead to the Seaford Harbor. Once able to look out onto the canals while sitting on his bedroom windowsill, he returned to a house that is inhabitable despite having heat and electricity restored because mold has infested the structural beams.
“The damage is devastating,” said Elliott. “I can hardly remember where the entrances are anymore,” he added while standing in what was left of one of the bedrooms of the house.
The mold has spread in other Sandy-flooded houses like Elliot’s. Ten percent of 948,540 of LI households experienced some flooding or storm damage, according to FEMA.
The damp surfaces combined with the heat being turned back on create the ideal environment for mold to grow. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that exposure to some forms of mold can pose health risks such as upper respiratory tract symptoms and eye and skin irritation.
“Mold is not a minor issue,” said Schumer. “Many houses that have been flooded have or will have mold.”
Mold remediation can cost thousands of dollars, a costly service many residents can’t afford, forcing them to live in toxic homes, turn to cheaper ineffective products or find someplace else to live.
Schumer, who was joined by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Sam Chu, commissioner for the Suffolk County Department of Labor, are also urging lawmakers to reimburse programs such as AmeriCorps that have been funding mold remediation.
In the past, federal funding was able to aid Hurricane Katrina victims with mold removal through the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery.
Congress approved more than $9 billion in Sandy aid to the national flood insurance program last week after the House of Representatives failed to approve the full $60 billion package that had passed the U.S. Senate, sparking local outrage. Despite the delays, Elliot is staying positive.
“I am hopeful,” Elliott told the Press. “I can’t help but be hopeful after this outpouring support today that I will be able to get the aid I need.”