Mold, Unlivable Summer Homes a Growing Concern for Tourism Following Sandy

Remediation Key to Preserving Local Economy
Dec 09, 2012

“As far as mold, this situation is probably second to Katrina,” said independent claims adjuster Jim Harris of Austin, Texas, while inspecting a property in Ship Bottom on Monday, Dec. 3. “I’ve been in the business a lot of years. With this storm in particular, the issue is the population density; this is going to generate literally millions of claims.”

It has now been well over five weeks since Superstorm Sandy brought a record storm surge to our region. Although power and gas have been restored to most areas and trash removal is under way, the mold problem is reaching its next stage. Homes that were not gutted of wet drywall and fiberglass are seeing mold spread far above the affected areas.

Mold can become toxic, presenting myriad health risks, specifically to the elderly, babies, allergy sufferers and those with respiratory problems, but they can affect anyone. After all this time, untreated mold has been multiplying.

“Contaminated particles become airborne and travel, and secondary-growth colonizers are almost always nastier than the initial mold growth,” explained air quality consultant Jeremy Sparks of the Sparks Consulting Group in Princeton, who has been working in area houses for three weeks already.

He explained that as different molds compete, the stronger ones will feed off the others.

The problem has been noted by health personnel as well. “We have been seeing more upper respiratory, allergic bronchitis, and pneumonia cases than normal,” reported Adam Lazarus, M.D., chief of emergency medicine at Southern Ocean Medical Center. “It’s not an epidemic, but it is enough to raise suspicion, as most were affected by Hurricane Sandy. It hasn’t been something that has overwhelmed the E.D. (Emergency Department), but for anyone who has been exposed to mold and mildew, I’d be concerned.”

Lazarus expects the medical center will be treating even more symptoms in the coming months.  He advises anyone returning to a home, even if it wasn’t completely flooded, to get air in and dry it out.

Sparks, who recommends that anyone living in a gutted home at this time quarter off the affected areas with plastic, is concerned about adverse health affects down the road.

“My business targets those health-affected by indoor mold growth, so I see individuals sickened, life-threatened, and even admitted to emergency neurological surgeries by various indoor molds on a regular basis. Science doesn’t, quote, ‘recognize’ this technically yet, but I work at a ridiculously expedient pace and in certain situations have documented client reactions with neurosurgeon records and my collected scientific data.

“A large, 4-foot by 4-foot area of visible mold growth of the nastiest variety might not bother someone for three to five weeks or more, but can be life threatening to a toddler, the elderly, or anyone with an upper respiratory disorder. Even a healthy adult would most likely develop a sensitivity to it over time, and our health would continue to decline after that.”

Sparks is putting together a team of remediators and health specialists to deal with the scope.

“The right team of doctors could provide the large-scale, low-cost and effective treatment method that is likely to be necessary.”

Some residences, many of which are vacation homes, have yet to be gutted. These could present a problem as mold spreads. Health issues could force them to be condemned.

“My biggest concern is the people who ignored their homes and the houses may not be livable by next summer. It will knock them out of the rental market,” said Rick McDonough, a resident of Ship Bottom and owner of Typestries Sign and Design in Manahawkin, which makes signs for many Island businesses. “Here are the businesses showing that we’re open and ready for people. And then what if there aren’t enough rentals next summer and we lose out on those families coming here? On my street alone, every rental property is offline, and that’s just one street.”

McDonough has been working with the Jetty + Waves for Water group, which among other efforts, such as providing clothes, cleaning the bay, offering cleaning supplies and gutting homes,  started canvassing neighborhoods on Saturday, Dec. 8, to warn of mold danger and to collect data on which houses are still festering with mold. There is a real question how many homes in Holgate will be habitable. Another percentage everywhere south of the Causeway and Beach Haven West, and it’s a major jolt to the tourist season.

“My year-round neighbors are already rebuilding,” McDonough said. “Can you imagine what those houses are like that haven’t even been started? They are going to have to completely rebuild. And if they don’t get started until the spring and have to wait for every inspection along the way, they’re not going to be ready by summer.”

He shared a story of one neighbor who already found a half-inch of mold growing inside the sheathing (plywood walls) of his home.

It’s a concern shared by many in the business community as a long-term effect of Sandy.

“Time is of the essence,” said Brian Farias, whose family owns three Farias Surf and Sports stores on the Island. “Before we get into the deep winter freeze and volunteers start to dwindle, people need to take advantage of the help or call their contractor. They need to get guidance on the next step.

“We have to bring this beautiful Island back into shape so people can come back. It can be overwhelming, but we have to break it down. We have solid backing, and we can all do this together.”

Harris explained that the Superstorm Sandy floodwaters receded much faster than after Katrina in New Orleans. But the moisture remains. Everyone involved agrees that affected homes need to be remedied sooner than later. Harris said that even without flood insurance, homeowners insurance will cover mold damage.

— Jon Coen

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