By Matthew Wolfe
Shelley Trout doesn’t know exactly what’s growing in her apartment, but it’s not good. On December 7, Trout noticed what appeared to be small mushrooms growing on the corners of the roof in the foyer of her Flatbush apartment, located at 580 East 17th Street. Upon closer inspection, they looked like something out of a David Cronenberg film: shiny, slimy and tentacled, they were indeed mushrooms. “They came out like bulbs in the springtime,” said Trout. “Out of nowhere.” Trout, a 24-year resident of the property, says she has been plagued by a leaky roof that her management company has refused to fix, and now her health and the health of her family are paying the price, she says. Shortly after water leaked in through a small hole and the mushrooms appeared, Trout and her children, daughters aged 15 and 20, sons aged 16 and 27, all of whom live in the house and are asthmatic, began experiencing allergic symptoms: wheezing, coughing, weakness and dizziness, she claims. “We started coughing really badly,” said Trout, who also has a heart condition. “I was wheezing and I was telling the doctor that I was having this wheezing and stuff and called.” The physician examined Trout and suggested that it was the fungus that was causing her to become sick. Mold – also called mildew – mushrooms and other types of fungi can exacerbate asthma and cause wheezing, coughing, congestion and sneezing. Often, especially when disturbed or damaged, fungi release spores that can find their way into people’s respiratory systems and provoke allergic reactions. These fungi require moisture to grow and can be found in damp, humid areas. A spokesman for the city Department of Hygiene and Mental Health (DOHMH) advised fixing leaks in plumbing and in areas of one’s home or office that are exposed to rain. Using a dehumidifier in areas prone to excessive humidity is also recommended. While the physician recommended that Trout and her four children keep out of the house until the mold could be fully cleared, she has nowhere else to go and continues to wait on the management company to clean her apartment. “They need to take down that wall and see what’s behind it,” Trout said. “I’m still sick!” The city health agency’s website notes that it is the responsibility of the landlord to ensure that a building remains mold free. Contacted by phone on Thursday, December 27, a representative of the building’s management company, Samson Management, claimed that the company had first been notified of the problem on Monday, December 24. Samson, he said, sent a person to fix the problem immediately, but that Trout refused to allow the person into the house. The representative said a person would arrive at the apartment the next morning, Friday, December 28, to fix the problem. “She wants it done and we want to do it,” the representative said. As promised, a representative of the management company showed up at the apartment, but he did not fix the problem. Trout said the man had come prepared to spray the wall and paint over whatever was wrong with it but was unready for the infestation. “I told him he needed to take down the wall and see what was behind it,” said Trout. “But when he looked at it, he said, ‘What the hell is that?’” Trout said calls placed to management that morning were met with answering machines. A call placed by this newspaper to Samson Management was unreturned as of press time. For now, Trout is considering her next move while she waits. After staying in Virginia over Christmas, Trout returned home and to another visit to her doctor, who warned against her returning to her apartment. “He tells me I’ll be back to when I used to be very, very ill from my asthma,” said Trout. “I can’t stay there, so I guess I have to find somewhere else until they fix it.” *** If you have mold in your house, the NYC DOHMH recommends cleaning it in the following manner: •Use soap and water to clean small areas of mold (less than 10 square feet) on walls or other hard surfaces as soon as you see it. •Wear waterproof gloves. •Dry the cleaned area completely. •If the mold returns quickly or spreads, there may be an underlying problem such as a water leak. To stop mold, water problems must be fixed. •If large areas of mold are present, you may need a professional mold abatement company. Check the phone book for mold abatement contractors. For additional questions, call 311, or visit nyc.gov/health. Select ‘M’ in ‘Health Topics A to Z’ and click on ‘Mold’.