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Moisture problems can lead to chronic mold issues

Excessive moisture in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings -- which are home to 400,000 New Yorkers -- has led to a rampant and severe mold problem. Many apartments have recurring and uncontrolled mold growth, wet and rotting walls, musty odors, bubbling and peeling paint, and infestations of cockroaches and other vermin.

This is particularly problematic for residents with asthma, as these conditions may aggravate symptoms of this disease, which is found at a higher rate among public housing residents than other populations of the city. In fact, one study found that asthma prevalence among children living in New York City public housing is nearly two times higher than rates among kids living in other types of housing in the city.

These conditions can lead to difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing and, in the worst cases, hospitalization. As a result, tenants often miss work or school, and require additional doctor and hospital visits. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk. In fact, children living in low-income neighborhoods in the city are three times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than children in wealthier neighborhoods.

Moisture damage can lead to dangerous situations

In the past, the city has failed to address these problems at their source. It would often take several months for NYCHA to respond to repair requests, if they responded at all. When repairs were made, the agency used superficial, cosmetic fixes -- such as bleaching and painting over moldy walls -- that did not keep the problem from coming back.

But, thankfully, things are expected to change. The city is now required to take major steps to address its mold and moisture problem in public housing apartments, as a result of a December 2013 settlement reached in a lawsuit filed on behalf of affected residents by NRDC and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. The lawsuit was a class action case on behalf of children and elderly NYCHA tenants suffering from asthma and all those similar situated. NRDC also represented Manhattan Together and South Bronx Churches, interfaith and community-based organizations that organize around housing.

Who Should I Call to Fix a Mold or Moisture Problems?

To report water leaks, mold and moisture problems in a NYCHA building that require repair, call NYCHA's 24-hour Customer Contact Center at (718) 707-7771.

What is the City Required to Do to Address My Mold or Moisture Problem?

Under the conditions of this settlement, for the first time, NYCHA will be required to respond to mold and moisture complaints within a specific, reasonable timeline. First, for all mold and moisture-related calls, a maintenance supervisor must visit the apartment to inspect the problem. After the visit, the supervisor has 24 hours to issues work orders to fix the problems. The simplest of repairs will be required to be completed in seven days or less on average, and more complex repairs in 15 days or less on average. Additionally, after 60 days a supervisor will have to check in and make sure the repair was effective.

Additionally, and also for the first time, when NYCHA makes the repair, it will be required to address the problem at its source, rather than relying on the insufficient cosmetic fixes it has used in the past (i.e. bleaching and painting over moldy walls).

Why should I be concerned about mold and excessive moisture?

The link between mold, moisture, and other contaminants found in damp indoor environments (e.g., dust mite and cockroach allergens) and the exacerbation of asthma symptoms is well-established.

Mold is the common name used to describe various types of fungus that can be found growing both indoors and outdoors, especially in moist warm environments. Mold can be a dangerous indoor air contaminant and in residential settings usually requires prompt attention and cleanup.

Moisture fosters bacterial growth, triggers the release of air toxins, and attracts dust mites and cockroaches, which contribute allergens to household air and dust. Persistently damp conditions degrade the quality of indoor air.

How can mold affect my health or my kids' health?

Contaminants in the air, when breathed in by individuals with asthma, react with their inflamed airways and trigger asthma symptoms and reactions. Severe asthma reactions can require emergency care, and may result in death.

Individuals with asthma are particularly vulnerable to the ill health effects of mold and moisture. Asthma symptoms and attacks occur more frequently when the individual is exposed to mold and moisture at home.

Mold growing on damp surfaces releases spores into the air, which, if inhaled, can cause congestion, sneezing, runny or itchy nose, and throat irritation. More serious symptoms include major allergy attacks, cough, asthma attacks, hypersensitivity pneumonitis (a pneumonia-like illness) and infections in people with immune system problems. Mold can cause allergic reactions whether its spores are dead or alive; and some molds can produce toxins. The elderly and young children are especially sensitive.

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last revised 2/20/2014

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