Tenants and administrators of Windmill Village II, an affordable housing complex for senior citizens off Accabonac Road in East Hampton, brought long-standing complaints about mold in the basements of the buildings there, and its potential effects on health, to a meeting of the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday.
Although Windmill II was built and is operated by the independent Windmill Housing Development Fund Company rather than the town, as are Windmill I and the newer senior citizen complex at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Amagansett, town officials have inspected the basements there and at one point withheld rents provided through federally subsidized programs until repairs were made.
Bill Smith, whose sons own Mildew Busters, a company based on Shelter Island, which was called in by the tenants, said efforts to eliminate the mold, which he called “alarming and off the charts,” had been ineffective and even made matters worse.
But Michael DeSario, the president of the board of the Windmill company, told the board that the situation had been properly addressed with the help of a firm called Insight Environmental, **Insight Environmental was first called in April of 2009 after water runoff and plumbing leaks had gone undetected in ceilings, causing water to seep through to Sheetrock in the basements, causing mold. He said Sheetrock was removed, uncovered areas were treated with a moldicide, plumbing fixed, air-circulation systems installed, and new Sheetrock put up. Outdoors, land was regraded and leaders and gutters installed to prevent future problems.
“We spent over $70,000 in doing it,” Mr. DeSario said, after which the buildings were tested and deemed clean.
Last spring, when mold was again found in Windmill basements, Mr. DeSario said the board of directors asked tenants to remove the items they had stored in the basements, particularly upholstered furniture. “The residents had a problem with that,” he said, which resulted in a decision to allow storage only in plastic bins.
Insight Environmental was called in again and began additional remediation work in August, Mr. DeSario said. The wet Sheetrock was removed, areas treated and vacuumed, and dehumidifiers installed. Tests in four buildings where the work has been completed have shown good results, he said.
A test in November at the most severely affected building revealed mold levels similar to those found outdoors, which is the goal, according to an Insight Environmental spokesman.
“We’re trying to do everything that we can. It’s a serious issue. We do take it seriously and we’re going to do everything we can to remediate it until the problem is resolved,” Mr. DeSario said. Nevertheless he said mold was “almost like a nonstop, recurring problem. The main culprit is the Sheetrock.”
With six apartments per building, it is not uncommon for an overflow from a tub or sink or a plumbing leak to create a wet environment in the basement ceiling, he said. The long-term solution is to remove the ceiling Sheetrock so that leaks can be immediately detected, Mr. DeSario said. Although the state fire code requires Sheetrock, it could be eliminated, he said, if a sprinkler system were installed, and the basements kept empty of flammable items.
But Mr. Smith said tenants “are clearly all suffering from symptoms that have to do with mold exposure.” He said initial test results showed several types of toxigenic mold, which are not in themselves toxic, but can produce toxins. According to the Centers for Disease Control, mold exposure does not always present a health problem indoors, but exposure has been linked with upper respiratory tract symptoms such as coughs and wheezing. People may experience nasal stuffiness and eye or skin irritation, according to the C.D.C. website, as well as more severe reactions.
Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell asked Mr. Smith to submit his information to the town housing director, Tom Ruhle. He also asked that Windmill board members, tenants, and their respective mold experts meet, along with town housing officials, to map out a mutually agreeable course of action.