Houston faces threats from mold, fumes and toxic water in cleanup after Harvey

Houston faces threats from mold, fumes and toxic water in cleanup after Harvey

Residents of Harris County, Texas, returning to an estimated 156,000 homes flooded by Harvey face dangers from mold, electrical hazards and deadly fumes and toxins in the receding water.

The death toll has risen to at least 42, with a house-by-house search for survivors continuing. Also, fire officials in New Waverly north of Houston said a 6-month-old baby was missing and presumed dead after being ripped out of its parents arms and swept away by floodwaters when the family fled their pickup truck last Sunday, the Houston Chronicle reported.

President Trump, who has initially proposed $7.85 billion in federal disaster relief, traveled Saturday to visit recovery efforts in Houston and Louisiana

From space, seeing Texas pre-Harvey and post-Harvey confirms the disastrous impact rising water has had on the state. USA TODAY

More than 457,000 people have applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance by Friday. More than 121,000 survivors have already been approved for more than $83.4 million in assistance from FEMA.

The Red Cross and its partners sheltered 42,399 people in Texas, and another 1,487 in Louisiana, according to FEMA.

The National Flood Insurance Program received 63,000 claims by 2 p.m. Friday. Advance payments up to $10,000 are available, as officials gauge begin to gauge the damage.

And the Small Business Administration has received 2,118 disaster loan applications, primarily for homes. The agency has completed 451 property-damage inspections and field 5,221 calls.

An estimated 156,000 dwellings in Harris County  more than 10% of all structures  were damaged by flooding, according to the flood control district.

Inside her house, a pile of furniture and splintered belongings sat in the middle of the floor.

Dangers remain as the water recedes.

Mold can cause coughing and asthma attacks when spores are inhaled, making it dangerous for people with chronic breathing conditions. Mold could start growing a day or two after flooding from the hurricane that arrived Aug. 25, more than a week ago.

Experts urge residents to dry out their homes as soon as possible. Waterlogged material such as carpet and drywall must be removed. Hard surfaces should be disinfected by scrubbing with a cup of bleach in every gallon of water.

But this advice could be difficult in parts of Houston that are expected to remain flooded for two weeks, as Harris County releases water from the Addicks Reservoir.

Sagging ceilings, slippery floors and rough edges of debris each represent threats of wounds from cuts or punctures.

For anyone who does suffer an injury, such as a cut or puncture wound, the Texas Department of State Health Services is urging tetanus shots for anyone who hasn’t had one in 10 years.

At least one person died in Harvey’s aftermath by stepping on a live electrical wire in ankle-deep water.

Another risk is that carbon-monoxide fumes from generators could build up in homes without electricity, said Renee Funk of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Charcoal grills and camp stoves, if used indoors, could also produce dangerous fumes.

Any sort of roof over a generator is actually a problem, Funk said.

On Saturday afternoon, Bill Zang fired up the motor of his hovercraft for a charity mission to help the thirsty residents of Beaumont, Texas, by stealing water from the Coca-Cola Company (with the company’s permission.)

Coca-Cola owns a bottling facility on the north side of Beaumont that is surrounded by flood water from Harvey. The city’s water treatment plant a few miles away is still out of commission, but the factory has thousands of cases of fresh drinking water inside.

The water surrounding the plant is too deep for vehicles to approach, however. And the outboard motors of regular, flat-bottomed boats are getting overpowered by the rushing water, Zang said.

“The water is really scary in some places,” said Zang, 39, an employee of the Universal Hovercraft company who drove two crafts to Texas from his home in Rockford, Il., to help with rescue efforts.

After spending the day rescuing cats and checking in on people who decided to stay inside their flooded homes, Zang switched gears to water.

His boat is perfectly suited for the job. It was designed after Hurricane Katrina specifically to aid in flood recovery efforts, he said, with a flat and wide hull and removable seats to make room for supplies.

The flood water isn’t safe for children to play in. The water can have high levels of sewage or other hazardous substances, which cause flu-like ailments such as intestinal problems and headaches, the Environmental Protection Agency warns.

One of the chemical risks was illustrated by the explosions and fire at a Houston-area chemical plant in Crosby. Emergency officials evacuated about 5,000 people Tuesday from an area within 1.5 miles of the plant, as the area flooded.

Explosions echoed from the plant as floodwaters engulfed it and cut off its emergency generators. Orange flames and thick black smoke poured out Friday after two trailers on unstable compounds blew up, after the generators failed to refrigerate organic peroxides used to make plastics and paints.

Six more trailers are expected to catch fire within a matter of days, according to spokeswoman Janet Smith.

Daryl Roberts, the company’s vice president of manufacturing, technology and regulatory services in the Americas, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the floodwater inundating the plant would cause any toxins produced by the fire to quickly vaporize.

I realize this is not a situation that we can help remedy overnight, Arkema CEO Rich Rowe told reporters in a conference call Friday.

South Florida teachers say schools are full of mold — and it’s making them sick

South Florida teachers say schools are full of mold — and it’s making them sick

A condemned school portable at Stranahan High, shown in 2015, was infested with mold, mildew and fungus and had been sitting unused for 5 years.

The Looming Consequences of Breathing Mold


The Looming Consequences of Breathing Mold

Flooding means health issues that unfold for years.

Mold grows in concentric circles on a ceiling in a New Orleans apartment after Hurricane Katrina.
The flooding of Houston is a health catastrophe unfolding publicly in slow motion. Much of the country is watching as 50 inches of water rise around the chairs of residents in nursing homes and submerge semitrucks. Some 20 trillion gallons of water are pouring onto the urban plain, where developers have paved over the wetlands that would drain the water. But the impact of hurricanes on health is not captured in the mortality and morbidity numbers in the days after the rain. This is typified by the inglorious problem of mold.

Two years after Hurricane Katrina, a New Orleans resident poses in his mold-infested home. (Alex Brandon / AP)

Submerging a city means introducing a new ecosystem of fungal growth that will change the health of the population in ways we are only beginning to understand. The same infrastructure and geography that have kept this water from dissipating created a uniquely prolonged period for fungal overgrowth to take hold, which can mean health effects that will bear out over years and lifetimes.

The documented dangers of excessive mold exposure are many. Guidelines issued by the World Health Organization note that living or working amid mold is associated with respiratory symptoms, allergies, asthma, and immunological reactions. The document cites a wide array of “inflammatory and toxic responses after exposure to microorganisms isolated from damp buildings, including their spores, metabolites, and components,” as well as evidence that mold exposure can increase risks of rare conditions like hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic alveolitis, and chronic sinusitis.A potentially dangerous species of mold grows in an apartment in Kenner, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)Twelve years ago in New Orleans, Katrina similarly rendered most homes unlivable, and it created a breeding ground for mosquitoes and the diseases they carry, and caused a shortage of potable water and food. But long after these threats to human health were addressed, the mold exposure, in low-income neighborhoods in particular, continued.

The same is true in parts of Brooklyn, where mold overgrowth has reportedly worsened in the years since Hurricane Sandy. In the Red Hook neighborhood, a community report last October found that a still-growing number of residents were living in moldy apartments.Brent Davis helps clean out a home damaged by floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew in Nichols, South Carolina, in October 2016. (Mike Spencer / AP)

The highly publicized toxic mold meaning the varieties that send mycotoxins into the air, the inhaling of which can acutely sicken anyone causes most concern right after a flood. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew in South Carolina last year, sludge stood feet deep in homes for days. As it receded, toxic black mold grew. In one small community, Nichols, it was more the mold than the water itself that left the towns 261 homes uninhabitable for months.

Researchers from the Natural Resources Defense Council held a press conference after Katrina about dangerously high levels of mold spores in the air. The group accused the Environmental Protection Agency of focusing only on exposures like arsenic, lead, asbestos, and pollutants such as those found in gasoline, while ignoring mold exposure.The overwhelmed EPA did at the time issue radio announcements and distribute brochures encouraging people to wear respirators when reentering flooded buildings, particularly when cleaning and ripping out drywall. These are occupational exposures that fall mainly on manual laborers.A sommelier in New Orleans displays a mold-damaged bottle of Opus One 1997 after Katrina. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

The more insidious and ubiquitous molds, though, produce no acutely dangerous mycotoxins but can still trigger inflammatory reactions, allergies, and asthma. The degree of impact from these exposure in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is still being studied.

Molds also emit volatile chemicals that some experts believe could affect the human nervous system. Among them is Joan Bennett, a distinguished professor of plant biology and pathology at Rutgers University, who has devoted her career to the study of fungal toxins. She was living in New Orleans during the storm, and she recalls that while some health experts were worried about heavy-metal poisoning or cholera, she was worried about fungus.

Im still surprised it didn’t receive more attention from the scientific community, she said in a recent interview. The city was rife with mold; everything organic decayed. A few people did some very superficial spore counts and they were off the scale, but at the time almost no one studied it because the focus was elsewhere. So I did my own study.The smell of the fungi in her house got so strong after the flooding that it gave her headaches and made her nauseated. As she evacuated, wearing a mask and gloves, she took samples of the mold along with her valued possessions. Her lab at Rutgers went on to report that the volatile organic compounds emitted by the mold, known as mushroom alcohol, had some bizarre effects on fruit flies. For one, they affected genes involved in handling and transporting dopamine in a way that mimicked the pathology of Parkinsons disease in humans.

More biologists ought to be looking at gas-phase compounds, because I’m quite certain we’ll find a lot of unexpected effects that we’ve been ignoring, said Bennett.


Insurance possibilities

Insurance possibilities

Proceeds from an insurance policy could be used to help the city of Jackson relocate or reopen the Charles Tisdale Library. Last week, the city was looking into a policy it had on the Tisdale Library, which closed earlier this year because of water damage and black mold.

We dont know what amount is needed for the library, but there could be insurance that would help cover the costs, said Ward Two Councilman Melvin Priester. What wed like to do is move to a different location and keep the library open in the neighborhood. If the insurance is available then its a different conversation.

The closing of the Tisdale branch presents another challenge for city leaders, who are considering a two-mill tax increase to help end furloughs and balance next years budget.

The information from the director makes it seem like the library is a (total) loss, Priester said.

Library officials are proposing relocating to a new location on Chastain Drive. Owners of the building are asking for $975,000, according to Patty Furr, the systems executive director.

Priester is interested in finding out more about the proposal, and would also like to look into whether the property could be leased. He said the city had not begun negotiations with the owner last week.

The insurance policy carries a $100,000 deductible. No further details of the contract were available.

Tisdale is used by about 69,000 people each year, including students who walk to the school in the afternoon from McWillie Elementary and Chastain Middle School. The branch closed earlier this year, after a spring deluge flooded the branchs basement, causing what had been a small black mold problem to grow exponentially.

The branch is located on Northside Drive, and has been flooding for years. As a result of the flooding, black mold got into the branchs heating and cooling system, and continued to grow behind the sheetrock.


Mold forces temporary closure of St. Patrick Catholic School


Mold forces temporary closure of St. Patrick Catholic School

Students are set to go back to school in less than two weeks, but those expecting to return to St. Patrick Catholic School will be headed elsewhere. A mold problem in the subsurface of the building can no longer be contained, and the school board decided Monday to close it for at least the 2017/2018 school year.

Superintendent Karl Germann says they discovered the black mold and other varieties two years ago, but it was contained at that time. However, it has continued to fluorish, and air sampling tests done between July 5th and August 8th found the air quality exceeded Health Canada guidelines three-fold.

Basically, the floor was concrete and then it was torn up and built as a false floor, but they put wood and gyprock over dirt, and so that just started to rot and it was all sealed so we couldn™ get at it.

Germann adds that if they tried to remediate when staff and students were in the school, the HVAC system would be circulating the mold throughout the building. A restoration company is coming in, and it sounds like some of the floors will need to be demolished to access the problem areas. Demolition alone could cost $400,000, but the total scale of the project is still unknown.

A modernization for St. Patrick was announced by the province earlier this year that would see the schools gym and three classrooms replaced. However, school board vice chair Michael Ouellette says they had been hoping for a completely new school.

Our fear from the boards point of view is always, what happens if it gets to this area, this level of damage to the school. We wanted a better decision a year ago; we didnt get that, so now this is why were in this situation.

Ouellette says they again be requesting a meeting with Alberta Education Minister David Eggen to decide their next steps. While the modernization isnt off the table at this point, it has been shelved to address the more pressing issue.

We need answers, he maintains. Parents deserve answers and the children deserve whats best for them.

In the meantime, all Pre-Kindergarten to grade 7 students will be moved to Holy Cross Catholic School, and will be transported by yellow bus for free. Four new bus routes have been created to drive through the catchment area, with new drivers being flown in to Grande Prairie from across western Alberta, as there arent enough in the city.

The 25 grade 8 students enrolled at St. Patrick will be accommodated at Mother Teresa Catholic School, and will also get free yellow bus transportation. They will board the Mother Teresa Montessori bus to be taken to class.

The 20 staff employed at St. Pats will follow the students. Ouellette says employees at all three schools are doing everything they can to put the students first despite schools already being full.

Because we dont have room in our other schools, we really had to move stuff around, and both Holy Cross and Mother Teresa are accommodating us. Maybe we have to move some stuff, change some rooms, use libraries, use other rooms that are available.

The last 24 hours has been interesting, adds Germann, but you realize that youve got a lot of good people when you can actually pull off something like this in such a short period of time.

Its hoped that keeping the students with the teachers they were expecting will lessen the effect of the upheaval on them. Board trustee and parent of two St. Patricks students Alyeska Silvester-Degen says she understands parents will still be concerned.

If Im not comfortable sending my own children to that school, then I dont want to expose our staff or the other students to any hazardous conditions. Im sure parents wont mind being a little inconvenienced knowing that their children are safer.

The school district is reaching out to all families affected, and bus routes will be made available during the last week of August. Anyone with questions can go to Holy Cross, Mother Teresa, or the office at St. Pats or call the schools to get more information or a tour of where their child will be attending.

The school is currently being packed up, and the first move will happen Thursday.

Moldy Decatur Library annex building likely headed for demolition

Moldy Decatur Library annex building likely headed for demolition

Decatur Library Annex

This file photo from 2015 shows the Decatur Library Annex.

 More than a year after the Decatur City Council took ownership of the Decatur Public Library annex building, council members seemed ready Monday to tear down the mold-infested structure that once housed the Village Mall.

“This reminds me of an ‘Alien’ movie,” Councilman Pat McDaniel said, invoking the science-fiction horror franchise as council members watched footage showing the annex’s second floor  covered in black mold, the result of a roof that has been leaking for years.

The study session to assess the future of the annex came as part of a nearly two-hour council meeting that also included consideration of raising the fine for distracted driving and a vote to join other cities in legal action against a fire truck manufacturer

The city took ownership of the annex as part of the deal when it acquired the Decatur Public Library property at 130 N. Franklin St. from the library board in May 2016. Under the deal, the library rents the space it occupies from the city, which provides maintenance. City leaders said they would either renovate the annex and seek a tenant for it or tear it down.

The 24,000-square-foot structure was built in 1968 as the automotive center for Sears, the building that now houses the library. The annex was transformed into the Village Mall in 1999, housing businesses such as Village Bagels & Deli, Apple Peddler, Olive’s Garden of Angels and Carlson Wagonlit Travel. The library reclaimed control from the mall developer in 2006, citing “legal issues,” and most tenants had left by 2008. Subsequent plans to turn the annex into a cultural center never materialized.

Library leaders were in talks during 2014 and 2015 to move Macon County government offices into the annex, with both the library building and annex owned by the Decatur Public Building Commission. Council members objected, in part because the city was still repaying debt for library renovations, and the city ultimately took ownership of the buildings instead.

As part of the deal, city leaders said they would make a decision about the annex within a year and then repave the library’s dilapidated parking lot.

“We blink, a year’s gone by, and while the parking lot has been paved adequately, far better than what it was one-plus years ago, it’s not the discussion we had had and the promise (we made),” City Manager Tim Gleason said.

Gleason said the $200,000 estimate to level the building needed to be updated before elected officials could sign off on a plan. City Treasurer Gregg Zientara said an estimate of $400,000 to renovate the building did not incorporate all of the issues, which include asbestos and a broken elevator.

“I think the direction is pretty clear that we’re leaning to taking this down,” Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said.

Gleason said city staff would gather estimates from demolition companies, though money for the work would have to come from next year’s budget.

Council members also raised the issue of another large dilapidated property: the former A action Equipment warehouse on East Grand Avenue, which still sits as a pile of rubble some 20 months after it burned down. Gleason said it has been subject to a legal battle between the city and the estate of the deceased landowner. Clearing the warehouse site could cost more than $250,000, he said.

“We still have the belief that the estate should take care of this. This is very much No. 1 on my radar,” Gleason said.

In other business, a majority of council members did not appear to support higher fines for distracted driving behavior, including texting or using cellphones.

The council members considered the matter during a study session, during which Decatur Police Chief Jim Getz recommended patrol officers continue to focus on other law enforcement concerns, like speeding and drunk driving.

McDaniel was the lone exception who voiced support for higher fines, though Moore Wolfe and council members lauded his effort to raise the issue. “It is a problem. People are not heeding the state law, and it’s all ages,” McDaniel said.

The council also voted to allow Decatur to join seven other Illinois cities in legal action against Wisconsin-based Pierce Manufacturing over faulty fire trucks built in the early 2000s. Gleason said the city has two trucks that are affected by a potential warranty violation from Pierce. Gleason said the problem is uncoated metal in the trucks’ frames that have led to enough rusting to make them unfit for use.

Gleason said the group of cities are in discussions with Pierce, and have not yet resorted to a lawsuit.

Peterborough apartment tenants battle black mould

Peterborough apartment tenants battle black mould

By Jason Bain, The Peterborough Examiner

Resident Jim Dignam shows mold inside his bathroom that he has been dealing with for several years on Friday August 11, 2017 at 225 Stewart St. in Peterborough, Ont. Dignam is a neighbour of resident Brian Christoph. CLIFFORD SKARSTEDT/PETERBOROUGH EXAMINER/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

Resident Jim Dignam shows mold inside his bathroom that he has been dealing with for several years on Friday August 11, 2017 at 225 Stewart St. in Peterborough, Ont. Dignam is a neighbour of resident Brian Christoph. CLIFFORD SKARSTEDT/PETERBOROUGH EXAMINER/POSTMEDIA

Brian Christoph is all-too familiar with the symptoms of having mould in his home.

The 62-year-old has experienced itchy, watery eyes, sinus congestion, rashes and worsened asthma-related breathing difficulty since the toxin-producing member of the fungus family took up residence in his 225 Stewart St. apartment.

“It’s been aggravating and very uncomfortable,” he said, pointing out that four of the nine prescription drugs he currently takes are to address the effects.

Work is now underway to address the wide-spread black mould issue at the 32-unit, two-storey building just south of Sherbrooke Street. It’s mostly home to fixed-income tenants, such as those supported by the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Christoph has been speaking out about the issue because he says other tenants won’t out of fear related to the difficulty of finding affordable housing. “The majority of people here are too scared to speak up … it’s a pretty bad situation.”

He first found mould when friends came over to help him recover some items from a storage area he cannot access from his wheelchair. Soon, he also discovered it in his shower, which was recently replaced, as were others in the building.

Other tenants say mould has been an issue for years, Christoph said.

Building co-owner Phil Burrett of BRT Groups, however, said he was first contacted about mould approximately three weeks ago. A contractor is now on site replacing the shower units in each apartment, work he expects to be done in about three months.

“We’re getting it taken care of,” he said.

Christoph, who recently lived for a hotel for two weeks as work was done on his unit, said the landlord may not have been aware of the issue – but that building supervisors were.

Burrett, who pointed out how the amount of supervision that can be provided is limited by the lower rent charged at the building, said the situation has illustrated that more frequent inspections will be necessary moving forward.

Burrett’s city-based family business bought the building, once a bakery, about 15 years ago as a way to get into affordable housing, he said. “This is a way I can help people in the community who can use the support.”

Christoph wants to make sure others are aware of the toll mould can take. “I just want to see this whole complex done properly … and make the public aware of the hazards of black mould.”

Those with health issues, such as respiratory disease or weakened immune systems, pregnant women, infants and the elderly are more at risk when exposed to mould, said Peterborough Public Health manager of environmental health programs, Atul Jain.

The key to stopping mould is eliminating the moisture that causes it, by fixing any water-related issues and ensuring proper ventilation, he said. The fungi thrives in moist areas that can become damp, such as wallpaper, ceiling tiles and carpet.

Mould can be cleaned – health officials recommend using a household cleaner, mask, gloves and washing your hands or having a shower afterwards – but if the issue causing the moisture isn’t resolved, the substance will just keep coming back.

“They have to get rid of the water and dampness,” he said.

Mould should be addressed as soon as possible because, since it spreads quickly, can become out of control, Jain said. Public health officials recommend calling in professionals when mold issues span areas larger than 30 square feet.

The health unit works regularly with city building and property standards staff to help resolve landlord/tenant issues related to mould, Jain said. It often receives referrals from Legal Aid Ontario to assist, for example.

The health unit fields mould-related complaints about once a week and enquiries related to the issue far more frequently than that, he said

Students, parents complain after bugs, mold found inside Tempe apartment complex

Students, parents complain after bugs, mold found inside Tempe apartment complex

– As students move into dorms and apartments in Tempe, prior to the start of classes at Arizona State University, some say the apartments they decided to rent is in poor condition.

Some apartments reportedly had no furniture, when they were supposed to be furnished. Some had leaky faucets, and some even had mold. Some say many of the apartments are unlivable.

“I think it’s a ‘bait and switch’,” said Glen Kumamoto, parent of a student. “It’s not fair to the students.”

“I’m pretty pissed about it,” said Krystal Scott, who is also a parent of a student.

Pictures taken inside some of the apartment units show cockroaches on the floor, mold on the ceiling, and conditions some describe as unlivable.

“There’s no doors on any of the rooms, so the bathrooms don’t have any doors,” said Kumamoto. “The sinks are broken, so you can’t use the sinks.”

“It’s filthy,” said Scott. “It has black mold around the baseboards. It has mold in the kitchen, the bathroom has bugs, the bathtub is black with mold between the tiles.”

When FOX 10 Phoenix reporter Matt Rodewald walked onto the Gateway apartment complex, more students showed them their own pictures of the conditions inside the units. Security officers at the scene, however, would not allow crews to get to the apartment office to ask about why some residents were being shown one unit, but getting another.

“They’ve shown us a nice apartment to rent, and then when we get here, it’s something totally different than what we expect,” said Scott.

“When they showed us the apartments, it was a very nice model, everything looked great,” said Kumamoto. “When we came to move in today, there’s mold on the carpet, there’s paint on the floor, there’s roaches every where.”

Kumamoto was able to get out of his lease. Others, however, are less fortunate, and some are srambling for alternatives, with classes right around the corner.

“I don’t intend to let my son stay here,” said Scott.

Basic Facts about Mold

Black Mold Forces Willowridge HS Students To Start Classes At Marshall HS

Black Mold Forces Willowridge HS Students To Start Classes At Marshall HS

Black Mold Forces Willowridge HS Students To Start Classes At Marshall HS

MISSOURI CITY, TX — Students at Fort Bend ISD’s Willowridge High School will start their classes at Thurgood Marshall High School in a few weeks as crews continue the remediation process of removing black mold from the school, district officials said.

Construction crews who were doing upgrades at the school during the summer break discovered black mold.

District official said the mold developed when power to the school was shut down in June, resulting in prolonged humidity levels, KPRC reported.

Officials began working on remediation, but said in July that they didn’t believe the school would be ready when classes resumed Aug. 22.

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RELATED: Black Mold Cleanup Stalls Willowridge High School Reopening

The discovery of the black mold prompted school administrators and teachers to dispose of all materials, such as paper, flooring, sheetrock, carpeting, furniture and other porous materials, KTRK reported.

District officials have not said how long it will be before students can return to Willowridge.