By Lauren Wanko
Nearly a year after the superstorm hammered the state, many of the hazards Sandy left behind still remain, posing a serious threat to those rebuilding.
“Well I think the biggest thing is that folks don’t realize this isn’t over. The reality is, is that we’re still having problems throughout the state. We have black mold, we have debris removal being done,” said American Federation of Teachers New Jersey Vice President Joyce Sagi.
That’s why the New Jersey Work Environment Council is offering free training classes targeted for workers, volunteers and homeowners.
“The takeaway for all of this is that we want people to do the work that they’re doing with clean-up and removal and rebuilding, safely,” said New Jersey Work Environment Council Communications Coordinator Janice Selinger.
A main focus of today’s class — mold, a fungus that only takes 72 hours to grow in damp places.
“But it’s gonna keep growing cause the way it reproduces, it sends off spores which are microscopic particles and wherever they land, they can start a new colony,” said Industrial Hygiene Consultant for the New Jersey Work Environment Council Fran Gillmore.
Only about 10 percent of the population is allergic to mold.
“But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned because if you tend to be a person with allergies anyway, and you get a large exposure to a new allergen such as mold, that can easily sensitize you and you develop an allergy or you can develop asthma,” said Gillmore.
Gillmore says respiratory masks are the most important line of defense against mold. A disposable mask is the minimum protection recommended.
“The reason it’s minimum, the filter’s the right material, that’s fine, but the problem is that it’s not as likely to get a seal around your face, an air-tight seal around your face, as a rubber or a plastic mask is,” Gillmore said.
But even with the mask, gloves, goggles and other protective gear, Gillmore says homeowners and volunteers shouldn’t clean up mold infestation that’s more then 10 square feet. That’s because work beyond that requires specific safety equipment.
“That equipment isn’t really readily available to ordinary people. Besides which, the work takes training and most people, homeowners, don’t have the kind of training to do it safely,” Gillmore said.
Participants also identified the hazards in their own properties. It’s called hazard mapping.
“Some of the obvious ones might be electrical hazards, could be slips, trips, falls. There are chemical hazards. There is silica dust hazard,” said New Jersey Work Environment Council Project Coordinator Cecelia Leto.
The New Jersey Work Environment Council’s free training classes are funded by an OSHA grant. The council will offer another two sessions this month.