Breaking the Mold: Law and Mold Remediation after a Natural Disaster

By Nicolas Wilhelm, JD

We’re in the midst of the hurricane season here on the East Coast, and with hurricanes come a host of health-related concerns from emergency preparedness to the clean-up after a disaster.

One of the issues rarely discussed in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy —two of the costliest natural disasters in US history — is the mold growth that occurred in water-damaged homes. One study indicated that the concentration of mold in flooded areas after Hurricane Katrina was roughly double the concentration in non-flooded areas.

With natural disasters occurring with greater frequency in recent years (there were three times as many natural disasters occurring from 2000 through 2009 than from 1980 to 1989), law may play a role in keeping Americans safe.

Mold produces mycotoxins, which can pose health risks at high levels. A comprehensive literature review conducted by the Institute of Medicine in 2004 revealed an association between both damp indoor environments and mold and some upper respiratory tract symptoms, coughing, wheezing, and asthma symptoms in sensitized persons. Further, exposure to mold can lead to mycotoxin poisoning, which can lead to a variety of chronic illnesses.

The safe removal of mold from water damaged buildings, or mold remediation, has therefore become a topic of discussion among policy makers. Ensuring that contractors removing mold receive the proper training and certifications can protect the public against improper removal of mold, and can protect contractors from health risks associated with its removal. The US Department of Labor recommends respiratory equipment, gloves, and eye protection when engaging in mold remediation.

Professor Elizabeth Geltman from CUNY published a dataset to tracking which US states have enacted mold remediation laws, and what those laws say. As of October 1, 2015, only 11 states in the United States have enacted laws regulating mold remediation. Of those states, seven have maritime borders (Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York and Texas) and four are landlocked (Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee). With the exception of Texas and Louisiana, every state bordering a body of water with a mold remediation law is on the East Coast.

As of October 1, 2015, 11 states have enacted laws regulating mold remediation.
As of October 1, 2015, 11 states had enacted laws regulating mold remediation.

Louisiana’s law went into effect in 2003, two years before Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana state legislature revisited these laws in 2008, but only made minor changes to the potential duration of mold remediation licenses.

New York revised its mold laws following Hurricane Sandy, but interestingly, neighboring New Jersey did not enact any mold remediation laws after Hurricane Sandy, and has yet to pass a law as of July 1, 2017.

More research on this often-overlooked policy area could become increasingly important, with natural disasters becoming more frequent and more destructive over time.

Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research

Based at the Temple University Beasley School of Law, the Center for Public Health Law Research supports the widespread adoption of scientific tools and methods for mapping and evaluating the impact of law on health. It works by developing and teaching public health law research and legal epidemiology methods (including legal mapping and policy surveillance); researching laws and policies that improve health, increase access to care, and create or remove barriers to health (e.g., laws or policies that create or remove inequity); and communicating and disseminating evidence to facilitate innovation.

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