Sandy-ravaged homes may see mold resurgence

AmeriCorps crew member Jon Luty, a volunteer from AmeriCorps crew member Jon Luty, a volunteer from the state of Washington, cleans mold from a home in Oceanside that was affected by superstorm Sandy. (Jan. 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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Along with crocuses and budding trees, warmer weather could be bringing a nasty surprise for those whose homes were damaged by flooding from superstorm Sandy -- a resurgence of mold.

Colder temperatures help suppress mold growth, but warmer temperatures, along with moisture, create conditions for it to thrive, said Dr. Ken Spaeth, director of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at the North Shore-LIJ Health System. For those impacted by Sandy, that could mean mold growth in spaces such as a basement or an area behind water-damaged drywall, he said.

Temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s can encourage mold to proliferate, said Glenn Neuschwender, president of Enviroscience Consultants in Ronkonkoma, especially if the air is moist from rain or humidity.

The result is a potential health concern and conditions that could trigger increased allergies.

Already, allergy symptoms are on the rise since Sandy hit, doctors say. There has been an increase in hacking coughs, wheezing, congestion and difficulty breathing, said Dr. Louis E. Guida, medical director of cystic fibrosis and allergy immunology at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip.

Repeated exposure to mold can cause sneezing; runny nose; stuffy nose; and red, itchy, watery eyes, said Guida, who says he's seen a 20 percent to 30 percent increase in his private practice, similar to what he saw after 9/11.

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Mold growth can go hand in hand with delays in effectively cleaning up the problem.

Neuschwender said he's seen "quite a mixed bag of circumstances" that result in delays in dealing with the issue, including people waiting for insurance payments and others who are proceeding piecemeal.

Susan DeLuca Maisto, owner for 25 years of a home in Brightwaters, said she has had trouble finding workers to clean up her basement, which had 18 inches of floodwater, and her garage, which was inundated with 24 inches.

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"Nobody even gets back to you," she said of workers busy with other jobs, though she's hopeful since a neighbor on her block has engaged a company she'll look to hire, too.

In the meantime, she said, her "allergies are so exacerbated right now that I lose my voice midway through the day, if not sooner." Despite an increased dose of antihistamines, she said she's still coughing, wheezing and itching.

Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) said that eradicating mold is a primary goal of federal assistance: "It's been nearly five months since Hurricane Sandy hit, and many homeowners are still waiting for the much-needed assistance to address mold issues."

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