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[Crossposted to Daily Gotham]


No one likes it. But it is a MUCH bigger health hazard than most people think, affecting many people without them even realizing it.

And when Hurricane Sandy swept through New York, though my home was barely affected, one of my first thoughts after it passed was about mold.

Having suffered through years of black mold in my apartment (due to leaks and retained moisture) I am very aware of the increasing mold problem in any part of America that isn't bone dry. I never really had to deal with mold when I lived in California. But when I moved to NYC I noticed two things: I got upper respiratory infections a lot more often and I had to deal with mold a lot more.

They may even be linked. Turns out allergies and asthma may to a large degree involve our body's reaction to a substance called "chitin." I wrote about this some years back (here's a fairly recent version). Scientists have found that a lot of allergic and asthma responses involve a large up-regulation of a gene called "chitinase" in our bodies...which makes a protein that breaks down chitin. What does chitin come from? Well, many people will think of insects and related arthropods (including things like bed bugs) all of which are encased in chitin. The "skin" of an insect is made of chitin. In fact people who work in crab or lobster processing plants often get severe allergic reactions that involve up-regulating chitinase. However, molds and other fungi ALSO contain a lot of chitin...and my bet is that the reason why allergies and asthma correlate so well with an up-regulation of chitinase is that the increasing mold problem in our damper cities (including NYC) is causing an increase in upper respiratory responses due to inhalation of mold spores which then become chronic allergies or asthma.

Currently a hypothesis, not proven, but a hypothesis that seems increasingly well supported. In fact, according to a 1999 Mayo Clinic study, nearly all chronic sinus infections (afflicting about 37 million Americans) are a result of mold. Again, discussed in more detail in this article, including a discussion of why asthma hits poorer neighborhoods so hard.

Mold, respiratory infections, allergies, asthma...all somehow connected with chitin as one of the links. I have to say that once I was able to get all the leaks in my apartment fixed and I learned how to best battle mold in my apartment (discussed here), my health has improved immensely. I used to have a chronic cough starting with my first cold of the winter and continuing until the next time I visited California. Literally! Now it doesn't really happen and I strongly suspect the mold in my apartment was the major cause of the chronic cough.

Any homeowner can do a lot to deal with mold, sometimes with help, often without it. Again, I have written the solutions that worked for me here and occasionally post it again as a reminder.

But NYC suffered a massive influx of water during Hurricane Sandy. I wrote at the time that in the aftermath mold would be an issue. It seems that at least some politicians in NYC have had the same idea. Bottom line is, if we all, with help from the government, don't work to prevent mold from taking advantage of the moisture Hurricane Sandy threw at us (and some of that moisture is still inside the walls of many buildings), respiratory infections, allergy and asthma will spike in NYC.

I was reminded of all of this by a press release from City Councilmember Lew Fidler. From Lew Fidler's office:

Councilman Lew Fidler Announces Local Trainings on Mold Remediation… and Calls on the Mayor to Help ALL of the Affected Neighborhoods

    Councilman Lew Fidler has received word from the Mayor’s Office that training sessions on mold remediation will be held in our community.

    “I applaud the Mayor for finally hearing what our communities have been calling for. Gerritsen Beach suffered tremendously in Hurricane Sandy and mold remediation is a real need for the neighborhood. But, I also must request that he bring these trainings to ALL of the communities that were affected by the storm – including both Sheepshead Bay/Plumb Beach and Canarsie. My entire District is on the coastline and the water wasn’t choosy about where it decided to come onto land. So thank you, but more is needed. Everyone needs access to this information and these supplies,” said Councilman Fidler.

    So far, two trainings have been scheduled locally. Both information and mold remediation supply kits will be provided:

February 4th, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM  -  at Gerritsen Beach Fire Department, 43 Seba Avenue

February 13th, 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM  -  at P.S. 277, 2529 Gerritsen Avenue

    “Mold remediation has been a real concern from day one,” said Councilman Fidler. “When I held post-storm community meetings, across my District, this was one of the issues that kept getting brought up again and again. We raised it with the City agencies present and we asked them for additional support and I am pleased to see that we are finally receiving it. Mold is a serious long-term health concern and I do not want our community to suffer anymore than it already has. I encourage all of my constituents affected by the storm to attend these meetings.”

For More Information:
    Councilman Lew Fidler – (718) 241-9330

I am glad Lew Fidler is on this. I have not heard similar press releases from my local Councilmembers (Levin and Lander) but then again my area didn't get hit so hard. Still, mold WILL still be a problem.

I urge people to pay attention to this issue. Moisture tends to collect and stay within walls for months. When weather gets warmer, mold thrives within the wall. In the worst case scenarios, buildings have had to be condemned because of mold within the walls, sometimes due to one major leak. And many who suffer from chronic allergies, asthma or respiratory infections, may well be suffering partly because of mold in their walls. Pay attention to Lew Fidler's press release and call 311 for more information for what is being done in your area. And for homeowners anywhere, pay attention to my tips for keeping mold at bay. It improved my health!

And New Yorkers, a reminder, Daily Gotham is back!


Thanks to anitrove:

EPA has lots of information pertaining to cleaning up after a flood.

Originally posted to mole333 on Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 05:40 PM PST.

Also republished by New York City.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Bleach is toxic (5+ / 0-)

    so you have to be careful how you use it.  I know that the material used by Serv-Pro is chloraseptic, the same stuff we used to spray on our throats.

    Also ozone generators are very effective. Basically oxygen molecules like to exist in pairs, the ozone generator makes triplets which then permeate into everything and then split and re-pair thereby fragging molds, bacteria, odors etc like small bombs. I have one that is about 20" long and about 6" square. It's an industrial unit. They go for about $500 or so, which seems like a lot, but when you think about what it does and what it might save, it isn't really. this will do a large room, which you shouldn't be in while it is running. You can come back in and turn it off and then leave again until the oxygen realigns itself. The result is a smell like after a thunderstorm.

    •  Oh yeah (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NYFM, worldlotus, BlackSheep1

      Bleach is toxic, which is why it works! But it is also why I use tamer things when I can (e.g the Sodium Carbonate (NOT Bicarbonate) stuff).

      Doesn't chloraseptic use phenol? Also toxic but very different than bleach. Maybe I am remembering the wrong throat med. Phenol is something I have used in lab a lot in the past.

      Haven't tried the ozone. So far bleach when it is panic level bad and the sodium carbonate stuff more routinely seems to work fairly well. But only if leaks are dealt with and it doesn't deal with it in the wall if that becomes a problem.

      But as the board member of a building co-op I will keep in mind the ozone suggestion!

      FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. NYC's Progressive/Reform Blog

      by mole333 on Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 06:35:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The ozone generator (6+ / 0-)

        will get behind walls if they are not sealed or caulked. It will permeate fabric and furniture, wood, carpet any place small molecules go, which is everywhere a mold can go.

        Also for topical applications vinegar is quite deadly to all sorts of mold and bacteria. Do not use it conjunction with bleach though.

        •  vinegar (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          worldlotus, BlackSheep1

          Have used that in the past as part of an athlete's foot issue. Worked very well in conjunction with other methods that didn't work so well on their own.

          I did know someone who hired a cleaning lady who somehow managed to clean stains that no one had managed to clean before. Turned out she (deliberately and with full knowledge and precautions) mixed bleach and ammonia cleaning products on the hardest stains. Of course produced horrible stuff (like chlorine gas!) but apparently also cleaned the stains.

          NOT a recommended procedure!

          FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. NYC's Progressive/Reform Blog

          by mole333 on Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 06:49:43 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  We've Rinsed All Raw Poultry and Fish in Vinegar (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          mole333, qofdisks

          also salad produce to be eaten raw, since years ago I saw a good housekeeping guest on a Martha Stewart show explain how antiseptic it is.

          It cut our incidence of digestive upsets dramatically.

          We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

          by Gooserock on Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 08:28:14 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Raw Poultry (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            NYFM, wilderness voice

            I worked for a year in a lab in Japan as my first post-doc out of grad school. I worked at Kyoto University and lived in the Northern (more rural) part of Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. First few months I lived there at some point during the day I would stop in my tracks on the street and think to myself, "Damn! I'm in Japan!"

            Amazing experience.

            First day I fly in to Kansai airport. Find the train to Kyoto. Take it to Kyoto Eki (the main Kyoto train station...southern part of the city). Met there by a grad student who knows English (they all do, but to varying degrees). He brokenly says "Hello" and I absentmindedly reply, "How's it going?" He slowly responded, "It's going well," but later that year he told me how my question totally threw him.

            They took me out to a local Izakaya (drinking place where good, small plate/tapas-like food is served). WONDERFUL food. I was gobbling it up and just as I was eating a particularly amazingly delicious piece of what I thought was sashimi, one of the students asked me whether I had eaten Japanese food before.

            I smiled and explained I was from Los Angeles where there are two Japanese communities (Little Tokyo and Little Osaka) and so I had quite often, but that maybe in the middle of America people might find something like raw fish (I pointed at what I had just eaten and LOVED) weird.

            Everyone looked at what I pointed at, looked back to me and said, "That's not fish."

            I looked at it...thought about it's appearance and taste, and realized I had just had raw chicken and had LOVED it.

            And a few days later I did get sick. And yes it was Salmonella. I was told no one else got sick so I dismissed it and tried to live on...which was awkward. Particularly when meeting up with a former love interest!

            In the end I learned everyone had gotten sick from it and it had been Salmonella from raw chicken.

            But I also have to admit I ate it again several times because it was so amazingly good.

            Then there was that time I tried horse sashimi...

            FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. NYC's Progressive/Reform Blog

            by mole333 on Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 08:43:38 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  better to use quaternary ammonia solution (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      kills the mold and doesn't leave behind a reinfestation-ready surface like bleach can.

      NYC issued a very comprehensive document on Mold Remediation in the late 1990s -- it was the source in IAQ when I worked in the industry from 2001-05. You can see the PDF here:

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Anne Richards, Barbara Jordan, Sully Sullenberger, Ike, Drew Brees, Molly Ivins --Texas is no Bush league! -7.50,-5.59

      by BlackSheep1 on Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 08:50:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Link doesn't work for me... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BlackSheep1, qofdisks

        There is a sodium carbonate based spray I have used  that works well (not my favorite and not the one I link to in the articles) that also smells of ammonium. It is supposedly non-toxic despite the ammonium smell. I wonder if this is related to the stuff you are referring to. Sodium carbonate CAN inhibit spore survival. Both bleach and ammonium can kill germinated fungi. I think a lot of this is balancing what kills what has already germinated and what are still spores. Even in lab we have certain items we autoclave (heat sterilize) twice because the first time won't kill the spores, so we wait until the spores germinate and then hit it again.

        Two hits are better than one! However it is done.

        FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. NYC's Progressive/Reform Blog

        by mole333 on Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 08:55:55 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  EPA Guidelines for cleaning up mold may be useful (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mole333, worldlotus

    when considering your own mold clean-up project:

    Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, Table 2

    EPA has lots of information pertaining to cleaning up after a flood.

    When life gives you wingnuts, make wingnut butter!

    by antirove on Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 06:58:48 PM PST

  •  tea tree oil and grapefruit seed extract oil (0+ / 0-)

    My very very effective mold strategy is essential oils diluted in water at 1-2 oz per gallon, in a garden-sprayer style 1 gallon vessel with misting hand-wand.

    Essential oils kill mold on contact and permeate the substrate to inhibit future growth as well.

    My faves are tea tree and grapefruit seed but there are many options.  

    essential oils can be purchased on ebay through many vendors, by the ounce, pint, quart, etc.

    A $50 dollar investment including the sprayer and two sixteen ounce pints of essential oil will go a very long way.

    Best value and best organic solution to your mold problems, IMO.


    •  To date... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      To date I have found essential oils, tea tree oil in particular, very unimpressive. However, I have not tried them in this context. And I do believe that some have real effects. I just have not had the time to work out the effective from the ineffective claims. It can also vary based on extent of the problem. And this wasn't a context I tried them in. Will keep it in mind.

      FREEDOM ISN'T FREE: That's why we pay taxes. NYC's Progressive/Reform Blog

      by mole333 on Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 08:47:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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