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Toxic mold and sick buildings may not be the most pressing concern facing the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy’s intense flooding earlier this month, but as the cleanup progresses and buildings, homes and offices return to normalcy, the risk remains for workers, tenants and residents of a gradually accruing health danger.

Toxic mold and sick buildings are growing concern after Sandy, due to the scope and range of the damage incurred. In addition to power loss that drove many from their homes, a long period without electricity and ensuing gas shortages led to a slower-than-expected recovery and much needed repair to structures as the area coped with the losses.

Sandy’s arrival coincided with high tides and lunar conditions allowing for what may have been the worst case scenario for low-lying areas and seaside towns — and countless homes, businesses and agencies numbering in the hundreds of thousands sustained severe flooding that destroyed or severely damaged structures and dwellings.

Toxic mold and sick buildings have emerged in recent years as a potentially silent threat with severe and possibly deadly health consequences, and the problem has been cited in CDC literature as a concern following hurricanes in particular.

Back in 2006, a CDC report titled ’Mold Prevention Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of Hurricanes and Major Floods,’ noted that even relatively minor exposures to toxic mold, mold-contaminated materials or sick buildings after an event like Sandy “can cause adverse health effects in susceptible persons regardless of the type of mold or the extent of contamination.”

The CDC’s report on toxic mold and hurricane damage also observed that those in affected areas likely “will have exposure to a wide variety of hazardous substances distributed by or contained within the floodwater.”

After hurricanes and floods, toxic mold exposure or time spent in sick buildings can not only lead to cross-contamination of other buildings and personal vehicles, but precipitate a broad range of symptoms such as opportunistic infection, a range of respiratory conditions, skin infections, and chronic fatigue and malaise.

In addition, an estimated 5 percent of the population is believed to suffer from respiratory symptoms due to exposure to toxic mold during some point in their lives, suggesting that the problem is far more pervasive than many people realize.

Now that Sandy’s cleanup is fully underway, lawmakers have urged constituents to take the potential for mold-related health problems seriously — but that doesn’t always lead to consistent application of best practices to prevent toxic mold growth.

In Staten Island, one of the areas hardest hit by the catastrophe, Rep. Michael Grimm addressed residents at a press conference in New Dorp about the toxic mold threat facing the region:

“A lot of people are, what’s called, gutting the inside of their house down to the studs … They’re taking off the sheet rock that was wet. They’re taking out their insulation, and they’re somewhat drying out the inside of their home. That is not enough.”

Grimm explained that the risk of toxic mold exposure remains long after the hurricane is gone:

“These are issues we see now starting, and we want to prevent it … Once you sign off with your insurance company, you may not be covered anymore and FEMA won’t be there.”

While homeowners have a degree of control over the risk of toxic mold and sick buildings after a hurricane or flood, workers and tenants may not be in as advantageous of a position to ensure their safety at home or in the workplace. Residents and employees in areas where floodwaters compromised structures should also be aware of the potential for toxic mold as the post-Sandy recovery continues.