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Toxic Mold Task Force Starts Work in New York

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The New York State Toxic Mold Task Force, newly formed by Governor Eliot Spitzer, has now been established and is getting to work.

Various molds, especially toxic molds, have long been a public concern, especially on Long Island whose increasing problems with mold can be blamed on dampness, especially in basements of older structures.  New building codes require buildings to be airtight, allowing moisture to be trapped and encouraging mold growth.  Mold is fuzzy growth found on moist organic matter by several types of fungi.  The quantity of mold fragments and spores needed to cause health problems varies from person to person; however, this toxic substance factors in 21 percent of asthma cases, cost the nation $3.5 billion yearly in health care expenses, and increase the risk of respiratory- and asthma-related illnesses by up to 50 percent.  Flourishing in dampness, mold  sometimes become so embedded that entire walls must be removed to rid structures of the invasion.  On Long Island, the most common forms include Penicillium, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Stachybotrys chartarum, the toxic black mold and asthma trigger.  Besides inhalation, people can become exposed to mold through skin contact and by eating moldy food.

Toxic mold has been the source of lawsuits and disability payments after people inhaled contaminated indoor air and, in 2004, an Institute of Medicine panel—an arm of the National Academies that advises Congress on health issues—concluded that indoor mold and dampness are linked to respiratory symptoms and asthma in vulnerable people. Black or toxic mold—Stachybotrys chartarum—is pathogenic, produces spores called mycotoxins, and can inhibit DNA and protein synthesis in mammalian cells, obstructing body functions.  Toxic mold severely sickens people and pets and is a leading cause of “sick building syndrome.”  Toxic molds can produce several toxic chemicals called mycotoxins that can damage health.  Mycotoxins are present on the spores and small mold fragments that are released into the air.  In high concentrations, these fragments and toxix can trigger symptoms even in individuals who have no allergies and can cause chronic cough, headaches, rashes, dizziness, excessive bruising, and hearing and memory loss.

Mold has been found throughout residential communities on Long Island and in tri-state area schools.  Last month, an entire housing complex in the Long Island community of Westbury was shut down from a deadly and toxic mold infestation displacing hundreds of residents in the midst of this year’s holiday season.  The Department of Health and the Department of State have announced that the New York State Toxic Mold Task Forces has now been established.  The task force is a newly formed, 14-member panel that will investigate related health issues; the task force’s first meeting was held on Tuesday, December 4, 2007 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. in the Boardroom of the New York State Nurse’s Association Headquarters office in Latham.

The Task Force will be preparing a report to the governor and the legislature that assesses the current body of knowledge on toxic mold, provides the status of toxic mold in the state, and assesses the feasibility of any further actions to be taken by the legislature or state agencies, as required by the law.

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