Officials Urge FEMA Funds For Post-Sandy Mold

SEAFORD, N.Y. (MCT Newsday) -

Owners of homes and other buildings infected with mold from Superstorm Sandy’s flooding may be in line for help after a push for federal funds by county officials and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

Schumer (D-N.Y.), highlighted the issue Tuesday at the Seaford home of Larry Elliott, who is among those still grappling with the situation 10 weeks after the storm.

Under current law, resources from FEMA cannot be used to remove mold from a house, even if that mold is making the house unlivable, Schumer said. In part, that is because it’s hard to know if a mold condition existed in a home before a flood.

After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, however, officials made the administrative changes necessary to enable federal funding for remediation work so that homes could be made inhabitable.

Failure to remove contaminated materials and reduce moisture and humidity can lead to serious long-term health risks, including respiratory problems, according to a FEMA-produced pamphlet.

“Mold is a common occurrence in flood-damaged areas, but FEMA does not reimburse for mold cleanup in private homes and businesses,” agency spokesman John Mills said Tuesday.

FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program may cover mold and mildew damage when the damage occurs in connection with a covered direct physical loss from flooding, Mills said. It will not be covered if there is clear evidence of the policyholder’s failure to inspect and maintain the insured property before the disaster.

“If such damage is the result of wicking — water’s been absorbed by, say, drywall — it is covered under the flood insurance program,” Mills added.

Suffolk County officials, concerned by the potential long-term health effects on residents, have in recent weeks pressed FEMA, the New York State Office of Emergency Management and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, President Obama’s point person on Sandy recovery, for funding to help address the issue.

So far, both Nassau and Suffolk have secured help from various charitable organizations and nonprofits for homeowners who need mold remediation work.

Suffolk Commissioner of the Department of Labor Samuel Chu told Newsday that of 81 homes in early December that needed to be mucked out, 63 had work completed by volunteer organizations. The remaining 18 were to be dealt with once the homeowners were reached.

Suffolk County plans to fund indoor air quality assessments for mold at a per-home cost of $500. Remediation could cost thousands of dollars more per house, Chu said.

“We view this issue seriously,” he said.

In Nassau, Deputy County Executive Rob Walker said 300 to 400 homes in Baldwin and East Rockaway have been mucked out, and the work included mold remediation. Both areas were affected by breaches of sewer treatment plants.