Many homeowners in New York and New Jersey hit hard by Hurricane Sandy have struggled through their recovery from the storm and efforts to rebuild their lives. The release of new funds to help hundreds of homeowners get their homes repaired and rebuilt is welcome news for many of those storm victims, according to recent news reports. New York City’s “Build it Back” program gave a green light this month for 543 reimbursement checks and the construction of over 500 homes for victims of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the city’s shores almost two years ago.

Fortunately, those funds cover environmental reviews—a critical component to rebuilding after Sandy, according to those on the front lines. Like Jennifer Terry, a program manager at the New York office of Rebuilding Together, a national home rebuilding organization which provides low-income homeowners with repairs, modifications and energy upgrades. In the past two years, they have served 90 homeowners in direct repairs and provided assistance to almost 200 additional homeowners in impacted neighborhoods throughout New York City.

“We are seeing some horrifying mold situations—even in homes that have already been rebuilt or repaired,” said Terry. “What people don’t realize is that if mold is not treated properly, it comes back. And it is a huge health risk.”

Almost two-thirds of homes in the Rockaways and Staten Island alone were affected by mold, according to one study, which also found that mold returned in more than 90 percent of homes where owners attempted to remediate mold themselves. Many contracted mold-related illnesses, which can include asthma, rashes, coughing, and more severe respiratory problems.

Terry recalled recently visiting homes and community properties such as synagogues that are still wet or damp from the storm that hit the East Coast on October 29, 2012, and claimed over 125 lives in the United States. She shared her concern about locals entering these buildings without protective gear. “We tell people, you should have a full protective suit and mask on when visiting. Exposure to the toxic black mold on the walls can be really harmful,” she said.

Test, Remediate, Rebuild: In That Order

Rebuilding Together looks to the professionals for mold testing and remediation, said Terry. “We are not in the mold business, but see the damage it can cause first-hand. We have seen homes rebuilt too quickly, where mold is now returning. The problem is growing bigger.”

While it’s understandable that homeowners will want to rebuild so they can re-occupy their homes quickly, it is critical to take the proper steps in identifying mold, determining the scope of the problem, and creating a safe plan to clean it up, says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and principal at RTK Environmental Group, a leader in environmental testing for mold, asbestos, lead, and indoor air quality.

“After Sandy, a lot of homeowners cleaned mold from behind their walls but didn’t leave time for things to fully dry out. And that’s when it can come back. You might not know it until you smell it. Professional testing can tell you what kind of mold you have, and what the best methods are for removing it. At RTK, we only perform the testing, not the remediation. Our no conflict of interest policy can save homeowners thousands of dollars in unnecessary repairs.”

Weitz recommends testing for mold before a home is rebuilt, and after, to ensure the mold was properly removed. RTK Environmental Group provides each client with a detailed report including the test results, remediation recommendations—essential documentation for homeowners who may be tapping into state or federal recovery funds for Sandy recovery, or plan to sell their home in the future.

With over 600,000 homes in New York and New Jersey damaged by Hurricane Sandy, much work remains to be completed.

For more information visit the RTK website at or call 800.392.6468.

Past exposure to lead may be to blame for over 400,000 deaths in the United States every year (The Lancet Public Health.)

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