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Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Panel Hears Testimony on Toxic Mold

The New York State Toxic
Mold Task Force, which first met in December, convened in an office building in
Lower Manhattan on Tuesday for a daylong
meeting on the health and economic impacts associated with mold.

The task force, which was formally
established in 2005 but did not begin work until last year, is to prepare a
report for the governor and the Legislature.

One task force member,
Christopher D’Andrea, a research scientist at the New York City Department of
Health and Mental Hygiene, presented the panel with an update on guidelines
that his department was preparing to advise residents on how to find mold and
get rid of it.

He said that the city received
about 20,000 mold complaints each year and issued about 14,000 citations. But
not all mold problems rise to the same level. Mr. D’Andrea projected a slide of
a shower stall, three feet long by three feet wide, to illustrate the type of
potential mold environment that people ought to feel comfortable taking a brush
or sponge to on their own.

In contrast, in places where
mold has spread over 100 square feet, Mr. D’Andrea said, professional mediators
are appropriate, along with workers wearing respirators, coveralls and gloves.

In some situations, he said,
mold removers might even want to consider using an airlock to separate
mold-infested zones from other areas.

Just before noon, the task
force took a break for lunch. Downstairs, on Broadway, several dozen
demonstrators were gathered, holding aloft banners and a jumbo model of an
asthma inhaler. They said that they were concerned about adverse health effects
connected to mold, but that they had been blocked from attending the meeting. (Officials
said that the meeting was open to the public but that participants had to
register their names in advance; the demonstrators said they had indeed
registered, only to be told there was no record of their having done so.)

"Neither New
York City or New York State has strong regulations around mold," said Irene Tung, the director of organizing for Make the Road New York, an
advocacy group that organized the demonstration. Ms. Tung said that she arrived with about 40 people.

In the afternoon session,
other witnesses described their experiences, both professional and personal,
with mold.

Lourdes Rodriguez, a resident
of Bushwick, Brooklyn, told the task force
that many people in her neighborhood suffered from asthma exacerbated by mold.

Guy Keith Vann, a lawyer who
has represented plaintiffs in mold-related cases, submitted 15 academic papers
to the task force that he said illustrated the dangers of mold in construction,
particularly in walls and ceilings that become waterlogged.

He noted that mold was one of
only several environmental hazards. "Mold has gotten a lot of attention because
it is visible," he said. "Bacteria can grow and grow, but you’re never going to
see it."

Another witness was Dr.
Eckardt Johanning, who specializes in occupational and environmental medicine
and for 15 years has treated people affected by mold. He works with the Fungal
Research Group, a nonprofit group based in Albany that promotes the study of the health
effects of airborne exposure to mold in workplaces and other group settings.

While it is widely known that
mold can worsen allergies, Dr. Johanning said, new research has associated mold
with other disorders, including depression and neurological conditions.

"These toxins that are
produced by the mold are very potent chemicals," he said.

Cheryl Borden, who lives in Huntington, N.Y., told
the panel that she was exposed to mold for 16 months in 1999 and 2000 while
living in Woodbury, N.Y. She said she had suffered from
upper-respiratory infections and yeast in her lungs and become acutely
sensitive to changes in environmental conditions.

Ms. Borden, who said she
favors strict laws controlling mold, said she had attended all of the task
force’s meetings. "I want them to see my face every time," she said. "I want
them to remember me."