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Toxic Mold Task Force Established in New York, as Threat to Public Health Grows

Dec 3, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Toxic molds have long been a public concern, especially on Long Island.  Long Island's increasing problems with mold can be blamed on dampness, especially in basements of older structures; however, codes require newer buildings to be airtight, thus moisture can be trapped and mold can grow.  Mold and dampness are factors in 21 percent of asthma cases, cost the nation $3.5 billion yearly in health care expenses, and increase the risk of respiratory- and asthma-related illnesses by up to 50 percent.  These toxic substances  thrive in dampness and sometimes become so embedded that entire walls must be removed to rid structures of the invasion.  On Long Island, the most common forms include Penicillium, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Stachybotrys chartarum, the toxic black mold and asthma trigger.

A New York State task force-The Toxic Mold Task Force-is a newly formed, 14-member panel that will investigate related health issues in a first-of-its-kind meeting Tuesday; the public is welcome and the state Health Department will lead the group.  The task force was formed by legislative mandate to study this issue and prepare a report for the governor and will review existing scientific research on toxic mold and related illnesses.  Legislators urged the panel be formed after hearing complaints of debilitating exposure to potentially lethal indoor air and concluding toxic mold is an under-recognized health problem.

Toxic mold has been the source of lawsuits and disability payments after people inhaled contaminated indoor air and, in 2004, an Institute of Medicine panel-an arm of the National Academies that advises Congress on health issues-concluded that indoor mold and dampness are linked to respiratory symptoms and asthma in vulnerable people.  Concentrated mold exposure can cause chronic cough, headaches, rashes, dizziness, excessive bruising, and hearing and memory loss.  Black or toxic mold-Stachybotrys chartarum-is pathogenic, produces spores called mycotoxins, and can inhibit DNA and protein synthesis in mammalian cells, obstructing body functions.  Toxic mold severely sickens people and pets and is a leading cause of "sick building syndrome."

Last week, hundreds of Westbury apartment residents were told they had to move out of the 21-building, 400-apartment community on Corporate Drive following reports of mold- and mildew-infested buildings.  Archstone-Smith-a Colorado-based company that developed and manages the complex-discovered catastrophic water invasion.  Residents called the situation outrageous and disgusting, saying they've endured leaky windows and grotesque mold in their homes, have been sickened with respiratory ailments, and reported water problems as far back as 2005.  Moisture leaked into the inner walls, soaking insulation, and potentially compromising interior mechanical systems and structural safety.  Tenants say Archstome painted over damage-such as water stains-instead of correcting problems.  Archstone denied this claiming the company addresses problems immediately but confirmed the problem affected all 21 buildings.  Archstone did not test for mold because there is no governmental standard for mold levels.  In 2003, Archstone-Smith agreed to pay $25 million to 800 tenants of a Florida complex for health-related issues resulting from a mold.  Archstone owns or is an owner in 350 properties-89,000 units-nationwide and claims Westbury's problems are not consistent with Florida's where the issue was due to a faulty HVAC [heating ventilation and air conditioning] system.

 


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