Officials urge FEMA funds for post-Sandy mold

SEAFORD, N.Y. — Owners of homes and other buildings infected with mold from superstorm Sandy’s flooding may be in line for help after a push for federal funds by county officials and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Schumer, D-N.Y., highlighted the issue Tuesday at the Seaford home of Larry Elliott, who is among those still grappling with the situation 10 weeks after the storm.

Under current law, resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency cannot be used to remove mold from a house, even if that mold is making the house unlivable, Schumer said. In part, that is because it’s hard to know if a mold condition existed in a home before a flood.

After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, however, officials made the administrative changes necessary to enable federal funding for remediation work so that homes could be made inhabitable.

Mold, which can start to grow on a damp surface within 24 to 48 hours, has plagued flooded homes since Sandy struck Oct. 29. Molds digest organic material and can eventually destroy what they grow upon.

Failure to remove contaminated materials and reduce moisture and humidity can lead to serious long-term health risks, including respiratory problems, according to a FEMA-produced pamphlet.

“Mold is a common occurrence in flood-damaged areas, but FEMA does not reimburse for mold cleanup in private homes and businesses,” agency spokesman John Mills said Tuesday.

There are no funds allocated under either the agency’s disaster assistance or the program known as STEP — Sheltering Temporary Essential Program, a new, post-Sandy initiative introduced in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.

FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program may cover mold and mildew damage when the damage occurs in connection with a covered direct physical loss from flooding, Mills said. It will not be covered if there is clear evidence of the policyholder’s failure to inspect and maintain the insured property before the disaster.

“If such damage is the result of wicking — water’s been absorbed by, say, drywall — it is covered under the flood insurance program,” Mills added.

Suffolk County officials, concerned by the potential long-term health effects on residents, have in recent weeks pressed FEMA, the New York State Office of Emergency Management and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, President Barack Obama’s point person on Sandy recovery, for funding to help address the issue.

So far, both Nassau and Suffolk have secured help from various charitable organizations and nonprofits, including AmeriCorps, for homeowners who need mold remediation work.

Suffolk Commissioner of the Department of Labor Samuel Chu told Newsday that of 81 homes in early December that needed to be mucked out, 63 had work completed by volunteer organizations. The remaining 18 homes were to be dealt with once the homeowners could be reached.

Suffolk County plans to fund post-muckout indoor air quality assessments for mold at a per-home cost of about $500. Remediation could cost thousands of dollars more per house, Chu said.

“We view this issue seriously,” he said.

In Nassau, Deputy County Executive Rob Walker said 300 to 400 homes in Baldwin and East Rockaway have been mucked out, and the work included mold remediation. Both areas were affected by breaches of sewer treatment plants.


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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): SANDY-MOLD