By Elizabeth Glass Geltman JD, LLM, Nicolas Wilhelm, JD, and Abraham Gutman, MA
Hurricane Harvey was called “the most extreme rain event in U.S. history.” In just a few days, the storm dropped 50 inches of rain on Houston. Now that the storm has ended, the response is moving from relief efforts to repair and cleanup efforts to deal with the extensive damage Harvey caused.
Unfortunately, the danger to first responders and volunteers does not end when the floodwaters recede — some of the most significant health concerns come from post-storm environmental perils, including mold. One study following Hurricane Katrina indicated that the concentration of mold in flooded areas was roughly double the concentration in non-flooded areas. After Harvey, Houston should expect to see a significant increase in mold hazards in homes.
Mold produces a fungus called mycotoxin which can make exposure to mold a health hazard. According to a World Health Organization report, people who have been exposed to mold are at risk of developing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and asthma (in sensitized persons). Moreover, exposure to mold could also lead to chronicconditions, such as chronic rhinosinusitis and chronic fatigue syndrome. The impact of mold is not always seen immediately. Individuals exposed to mold may see negative impacts on their health for years after leaving the moldy space.
Texas is one of 12 states and the District of Columbia that passed laws that regulate the way mold should be assessed, treated, and remediated to protect the public’s health from adverse effects of moldy buildings and homes.
The Texas mold law requires contractors providing mold removal services, or “mold remediation,” to complete an accredited training program and be certified to remove the mold. This certification requirement was designed to both protect the health of mold remediators and to ensure that those doing the removal do so properly so mold is less likely to grow back.
The Texas Department of Health Services, however, released emergency guidelines, allowing out-of-state mold remediation companies and unlicensed companies to apply for a temporary waiver to remediate mold in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Although the number of properties flooded may exceed the number of mold remediators certified by Texas, it remains important for individuals and contractors working to remediate mold take appropriate measures to protect themselves and property inhabitants. The waiver might be needed to increase in emergencies, but mold remains dangerous.