Attention and Warning:
Floods and storms such as Sandy that pounded the New York and New Jersey coasts left water-damaged building materials and furniture in its wake. Clean up of the water-logged areas can expose you and others to potentially hazardous materials that can make you sick, unless you are educated and trained in the recognition and proper handling of water-damaged materials. Special personal protection equipment (PPE) can ameliorate or prevent illnesses from atypical molds (i.e., fungi not normally found indoors), bacteria (sewage) and its by-products that may cause allergic reactions, irritations, infections, respiratory conditions (for example bronchitis, asthma, sinus infections or other lung conditions) and even toxic effects in same cases. You also may be exposing yourself to asbestos materials, lead, pesticides, petroleum products and other hazardous materials that normaly will require special handling and protective clothing for the skin, eye and respiratory protection (PPE), etc. Unless you have very minimal visible mold growth (maybe less than 1-3 feet by 1-3 feet), you should consult a professional (i.e., industrial hygienist, safety professional) who has experience in the safe handling of such products and waste. A number of Professional and Governmental Public Health organizations, such as WHO, EPA, FEMA, NIOSH and OSHA have specific information and recommendations in the necessary and safe handling of these products. We strongly advise you to carefully read these advisories and follow the recommendation to minimize risks to yourself and others!
see also a recent news article:
Sandy Cleanup Could Lead To Illness, Litigation For Workers
see: (excerpts from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/05/sandy-cleanup-workers_n_2245717.html 07-Dec-12)
... very concerned that we will suffer similar consequences," said Joel Shufro, executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health. "We believe that a large number of workers need to be trained. We don't want to repeat mistakes of 9/11."
Michael Barasch, a personal injury lawyer based in New York City, said he is currently "knee deep" in representing 9/11 recovery
workers who became sick after not having protective equipment, including respirators. He added his hope that the same story doesn't
play out with Sandy.
"But if hundreds of people come down with respiratory illness down the road," Barasch said, "we'll know why and there could be
Shufro pointed to a host of health hazards sprung up after Sandy, including another notorious respiratory irritant: asbestos. But the
leading risk for Sandy cleanup workers, he said, is mold.
Not only has mold been tied to a range of ills, including asthma and neurological problems, it's also deceptive and indiscriminate,
experts explain. It can hide out between walls, behind furniture and under flooring. What's more, just one spore can multiply rapidly,
initiating its reproduction process within just 12 hours.
"The new colony will keep growing and producing spores unless it is stopped," said Chin Yang, an expert in mold remediation at
To complicate matters, there is currently no federal standard for just how to safely stop mold. Guidelines do exist, including the new set
from OSHA and another from New York City.
Still, this has left questions of who should participate in the cleanup, and with what sort of training and protection, "open for discussion
and interpretation," Shufro said.
Maureen Lichtfeld, chair of environmental policy at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New
Orleans, noted that kids as well as people with asthma or other respiratory conditions should steer clear of mold cleanup work.
But even healthy adults can develop problems after repeated exposure, warned Dr. Eckardt Johanning. "I wouldn't have lay people do this, especially not with just a paper mask," said Johanning, director of the non-profit Fungal Research Group Foundation, referring to the N95 and other masks commonly provided to cleanup workers. He recommends instead a HEPA half- or full-face respirator.
Of course, if not properly fit, even the best equipment won't fully protect, noted Lichtfeld. A man's beard, for example, can get in the
Also as important as using proper equipment, according to Johanning, is not using improper equipment. He highlighted mold-inhibiting
chemical products employed by some contractors that are not approved for indoor use. "I could see legal issues arising from that end,"
Another "hitch" that could lead to litigation, according to Johanning, is the lack of consensus over the minimum remediation needed to
fight mold. "Like a cancer, you want to be very thorough, with good safety margins so that it doesn't grow back," he said.
The dangers of lingering mold or toxic chemicals are not limited to cleanup workers. "Unless workers are properly trained and
protected, we are going to see jobs that are not done properly and, consequently, the possibility of contamination for people who move
back in," Shufro said.
This may be all the more critical with the encroaching winter weather, as residents are forced to close windows and, if they have heat,
turn up the thermostat. Circulating heat and air within an enclosed area can lead in greater exposure.
OSHA's Lawder noted that the agency is continuing to educate workers and employers, while also keeping an eye out for mold hazards
in the field. However, OSHA's oversight does not apply to volunteers or public employees -- including the more than 5,000 New Yorkers
currently being hired for temporary government jobs to help in the cleanup.
What kind of training and equipment these 5,000 new hires can expect is "very much an open question," Shufro said.
Calls to the New York State Department of Labor, which is leading the program, were not returned.
"I can guarantee that a one day course will not suffice," said Floyd, of Teamsters Local 237. "We're not talking about mopping the floor.
We're talking about dealing with hazardous materials."