By Greg Smith
February 10, 2013
In a gutted basement on Beach 59th St. in the Rockaways, ominous, black splotches cover gypsum board, plaster walls and wooden support beams. Breathing itself is difficult.
Upstairs tenant Alberto Lespier, 56, says the ghastly rooms were supposedly “cleaned” by untrained workers who left behind toxic conditions he fears are ruining his health.
“I have high blood pressure,” he said, as he trudged through the contaminated space clutching a paper mask to his face. “This is no good.”
Sometimes, the “cleanups” are done by well-meaning volunteers, other times by contractors out to make a quick buck. In any event, hundreds of homeowners — particularly those who can’t afford to get the job done right — are now vulnerable, experts and officials say.
“This is a very widespread problem we’re talking about,” said William Sothern, chief investigator of Microecologies Inc. “In so many homes, the gutting has been done but little else has been done. We know a lot of people are closing up (walls) without treating the visible mold. It’s problematic.”
Recently, the Daily News accompanied Sothern and colleague Chris Mikrut to check out the Beach 59th St. home and several other mold-tainted homes — and quickly discovered the problem is not always obvious.
Moisture — mold’s best friend — can remain within wood for months. Mikrut placed a moisture-reading meter against what appeared to be a dry beam at Beach 59th St. and declared, “It’s still wet.”
In the next room, Sothern pointed to a plaster wall the untrained workers had left behind. A wisp of mold had already worked its way from floor to ceiling. “It’s growing on the paint,” he said.
Over on Beach 60th St. owner Nicole Harper, 46, faced a similar blight. After she emptied her flooded basement, a group of volunteers helped her tear out soaked wallboard, and a local handyman helped scrub surfaces of the studs underneath with Clorox and water.
But when Sothern and Mikrut checked out the porous studs on the 87-year-old house, they found mold everywhere.
“Even when it doesn’t look that bad you could still have mold,” Sothern said, holding up a mirror to reveal black spores growing behind Sheetrock that workers left behind because it was above the water line.
Harper realizes she has spent much of her savings to get to this point, and can’t afford to fix what she knows is a lingering problem. Her 4-year-old daughter, Darcy, barely tall enough to reach the brown streak that still marks the water line in the basement, has asthma.
“Some people are choosing not to check their Sheetrock even,” she said. “They say until I see it myself (on the walls) I’m not going to do it. Right now, it’s hidden behind the walls and it’s really a bad situation.”
Sothern and others have come across contractors who don’t know how to properly kill mold and are offering “remediation” that doesn’t remediate much of anything.
At a two-family, wood-frame home on Beach 46th St., Sothern pointed out mold throughout. Community volunteer Geoff Yenson swung a flashlight beam in the dark crawl space under the floor, revealing mold between the joists and the floor.
And this was after the city’s Rapid Repair crew tore out wallboard to the water line and volunteers from a church group sprayed the place with bleach and water.
“They said the spray would not be adequate to kill it but it would put a hold on it,” said the 71-year-old homeowner, Stephen Cooper.
Dave Newman of the N.Y. Committee for Occupational Safety & Health said, “You’ve got all kinds of vendors who don’t necessarily have any expertise in mold remediation. They’re hiring people off the streetcorners.
One contractor, George Guglielimi, said he had ripped out all the walls where mold was growing at a Beach 131st St. home and sprayed the wooden studs underneath with anti-mold chemicals. He admitted he had never done mold abatement before Hurricane Sandy and learned how to do it “from my son who went on the Internet.”
The owner’s daughter, however, said the workers failed.
“The stuff is in the closets. It’s still there. He’s supposed to get it out before the walls go up,” said Rochelle Burg, who says the contractor has already charged the family $35,000 and wants another $35,000 to finish the work.
Mold spores can aggravate existing respiratory problems, particularly asthma — and there was an alarming increase in asthma cases after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
“You’re going to see that here,” said Mike Shain of NY Indoor Air Quality Solutions of Long Island. “Cold helps postpone growth of mold. Humidity is low in wintertime, which gives people a bit of reprieve. Come May, June or July, if they didn’t resolve their issues, it’s going to flourish.”
A big problem is money. It costs a lot to truly eradicate mold from a contaminated home, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency won’t reimburse homeowners or renters for mold abatement.
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