TOMS RIVER, NEW JERSEY (PIX11) – “People are going to die and no one cares. No one is going to do anything to help anyone and Staten Island is going to be ruined,” said Elaine Kelly, a native Staten Islander now living in New Jersey who wipes tears away as she talks about how so many residents of Sandy-ravaged neighborhoods are susceptible to serious illnesses from toxic mold exposure.
Kelly would know because she says she’s been dealing with debilitating illnesses caused by mold exposure from her apartment building years ago.
She likens her life to a science fiction movie, saying she was a happy, healthy career-driven woman who was forced out of her home and now on disability and constantly sick, all because of mold.
“It started with sinus and fatigue then it went to the thyroid, attacking my liver, attacking my hormones, I got arthritis…You don’t know what’s wrong, don’t know how to get help. It’s a devastating illness,” said Kelly.
So when Super Storm Sandy hit, she thought, “I have to help them because the Board of Health and city agencies will fail them. And they are all going to get sick and I don’t want them to suffer like I have,” said Kelly.
She started an online conversation through a Facebook page dubbed, “All Things Mold, an Environmental Discussion Group.” There are nearly 300 members who can they can get legal help, how they can get doctors, what the symptoms and signs would be.
When a group of concerned Sandy survivors found her online, they enlisted her to help them in their fight to get the city to deal with dozens of abandoned, mold-ridden houses, that have gone untouched since the storm.
The group, headed by the newly organized non-profit Beacon of Hope New York, has been tracking moldy homes and getting politicians, like Congressman Michael Grimm to help them.
Dee McGrath is one of the worried residents in New Dorp Beach, and also the President of Beacon of Hope NY, who had pneumonia for the first time in her life, earlier this year. She happens to live next door to two properties abandoned since the storm.
“Everybody is getting sick. Many cases of pneumonia, allergies. It is the same symptoms of toxic mold syndrome,” said McGrath.
Kelly calls the potential mold exposure problem in Sandy-stricken neighborhoods, “a pandemic on the way.”
Yet the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene maintains, “Mold in an abandoned home does not generally pose a health risk to neighbors.”
“It’s not true, I’m living proof it’s not true, because they told me I wasn’t going to get sick and I am,” said Kelly.
Kelly says, in her case, the City’s health department and DEP told her since they did not see mold in her apartment, they would not test the air quality.
When she hired someone to test it independently, they found there was indeed mold somewhere near her home and she got sick from it.
If you have any concerns about the air quality related to mold in your home or in a home near you, call 311, and let the city know.
The city offers free mold remediation in the new program Build It Back that starts this month.