At least 12,000 people in the New York City area are living in unheated, Sandy-damaged homes, despite the respiratory and cardiovascular risks associated with doing so, and the risks extend to those assisting the recovery efforts. Employees of a company hired to clean mold from Sandy-damaged NYCHA buildings aren't given the proper safety equipment to do their jobs. The Daily News reports that Belchor is hiring day laborers off the street and giving them only paper masks to protect themselves from the hazardous fumes, when OSHA requires full-body suits and masks with respirators.
“We have to move all the slime and the sludge that was stinking, and all we had was (paper) masks," one worker at the Ocean Bay Houses in the Rockaways said. "They said it was sufficient. They never trained us on this." Another worker said, "We felt like coal miners down there."
The chemical used to remove and disinfect the mold, called Microban, "burns your throat and your eyes" after long periods of exposure, according to those who have worked with it. OSHA inspected 2,215 work sites by Friday and noted that one in three were working in hazardous conditions. An OSHA spokesman said that Belchor was "addressing" the issues, and a NYCHA spokeswoman called Belchor "experienced" and expressed confidence in their ability to provide a safe environment for their workers, who are getting paid $28 an hour.
The DOH notes [PDF] that living in frigid, damp homes "increase[s] the risk of heart attacks and stroke," and the number of people seeking treatment in emergency rooms for respiratory issues is double what it was last November. The AP spoke with 57-year-old John Frawley, who has been living in his powerless, freezing home in the Rockaways because all the hotels are booked and he'd rather not seek out a shelter. "I've been coughing like crazy…I can't stay here much longer."