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Labor demands city action on post-storm mold crisis

TimesLedger Newspapers

Members from several labor unions are putting pressure on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to address a growing problem in homes ravaged by Hurricane Sandy: mold.

“It’s been nearly three months since Hurricane Sandy, yet thousands of residents are still out of their homes because they can’t go back because of the mold infestations in their houses,” said Nathalie Alegre, an organizer for the Alliance for a Greater New York, a labor-backed nonprofit that advocates for social and economic justice, speaking from the steps of City Hall Jan. 24 with several other labor union leaders and medical professionals.

She said the city has failed to address the problem or ask for money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for mold removal. In addition, mold removal is not covered by Rapid Repairs, the city program that pairs homeowners with contractors who can make temporary building repairs.

Alegre said in the meantime mold remediation is sometimes carried out by people who are not trained to do the job in a safe and effective way.

“Whatever work done without proper training can cause mold to come back and generate extra costs for residents, who have already suffered enough,” she said.

Alegre and others at the news conference called on the city to allocate funding for a new initiative jointly launched by the alliance and several other labor groups. The project, Back Home, Back to Work, would deploy hundreds of skilled union workers to eliminate mold in hurricane-hit homes and would train community residents in mold removal.

Other groups that have formed the initiative include Laborers Local 78, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, New York Communities for Change, Queens Congregations United for Action and others.

Kristi Barnes, a spokeswoman for ALIGN, said the program needs government funding to bring it to scale and it would not be able to meet the needs of the community with private funding alone.

“We don’t think the cost of mold removal should be born by Sandy victims,” she said.

Mold can pose significant health hazards, particularly to children, the elderly and people who are chronically ill or have compromised immune systems. It can worsen asthma symptoms, trigger allergies, and cause tremors, fatigue, memory loss and poor concentration.

Jorge Gonzalo, a Far Rockaways resident, said at the news conference his house is infested with mold and no matter how hard he tries, he cannot seem to get rid of it.

“I think the mayor should address this problem before it gets worse,” he said.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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