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The Undisclosed Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

The Undisclosed Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

As you drive along the Jersey Shore, Long Island, or surrounding areas, the residual effects of Hurricane Sandy are still abundant almost 4 years later. I remember reading an announcement posted by the New York Committee of Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) for any rehabilitation volunteers and workers warning them about the dangers and hazards that may befall them. This document outlined immediate safety hazards such as a building collapse, debris piles, electrocution, explosions, etc. It warns against exposure to dangerous chemicals such as asbestos, lead, silica, or cement dust that could “cause serious, permanent long term harm to your health, and exposure to asbestos and silica furthermore, could cause cancer.” Much further down in this document, the NYCOSH briefly mentions a biological hazard in the form of mold. “Water and dampness can cause mold growth on buildings and furnishings, including sheet rock, ceiling tiles, wood, and carpets. Inhaling airborne mold can cause wheezing, respiratory distress, allergic reactions, and severe nasal, eye, and skin irritation. To protect against breathing in mold, use a disposable N-95 or greater respirator.” The documentation unfortunately misleads the reader into thinking that a reaction to mold would, at most, manifest as symptoms resembling a simple allergic reaction and using a paper mask will protect you from the exposure.  The alarming truth is that if you are genetically susceptible, you can end up with a severe immune system mediated inflammatory response to the interior of a water damaged building (WDB) that can literally destroy your health and your life.

A “Mysterious” Illness

I recently consulted with a man in his late 50’s desperate for relief from a variety of chronic health issues.  His symptoms included headaches, exhaustion, acid reflux, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, and an overall feeling that his health had been declining over the past 4 years. This patient ate from a list of doctor recommended foods to combat his acid reflux, while taking a daily acid-reducing medication to minimize his irritated esophagus. He had standing appointments with a pulmonologist to manage his asthma and monitor the progress of various inhalers and his other medications. He had also been seeing a gastroenterologist for his gastrointestinal symptoms, a rheumatologist for his aches and pains and his primary care doctor for his headaches and fatigue.

Unfortunately, up to this point, every doctor that he had been consulting with focused on treating his symptoms, while failing to adequately consider the underlying cause of his various maladies. A very important, but unnoticed clue was that all of this poor man’s symptoms began a few months after working on houses damaged by Hurricane Sandy. This gentleman is a contractor and had spent a significant amount of time in the disaster areas providing estimates, collaborating with insurance adjusters, and finally, working as a volunteer to help renovate the destroyed homes and buildings.

During my first consultation with this man, I became very suspicious that he was suffering from a chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS) as a result of exposure to a WDB. 

CIRS-WDB

CIRS-WDB is a syndrome where a genetically susceptible patient suffers a chronic inflammatory response caused by exposure to a water-damaged building (WDB).

At the time of our first consultation, the patient had no inkling that the rapid onset of his symptoms was all interrelated and the result of his exposure to WDB’s. After all, many of his coworkers had similar exposures, yet they seemed to be perfectly fine. The explanation why he got sickened and his co-workers did not is genetics. 76% percent of the general population will have minimal response to mold (WDB). Unfortunately, this patient was one of the 24% that is genetically predisposed (HLA susceptible) to biotoxin illness. While this patient had these same genes his whole life, and likely came across mold in the past, his consistent time spent in the post-Sandy WDB affected homes had caused gene activation and consequently a major reaction in his immune system. This immune response triggered a chain of events involving his brain, nervous system, and hormones, which led to his laundry list of symptoms.

Water-Damaged Buildings (WDB) contain more than just mold

If you experienced water damage to your home from Hurricane Sandy, and especially if you remember seeing mold, it is imperative to determine the extent of the water damage in your home. Was there water intrusion in your home involving the walls, carpets, or floors? Was the moisture there for at least 48 hours? If so, I would recommend that you contact an Indoor Environmental Professional (IEP). IEP’s are trained and certified professionals that use their expertise and specialized technology to investigate the possibility of hidden mold.  The other thing that you must understand is that a WDB will most likely contain (in addition to mold) other toxic materials caused by mold and bacteria (and their metabolic products) that can create a dangerous “chemical stew”. 

Water Damaged Material must be discarded, not just Cleaned

Are you one of the many homeowners with water damage from Sandy? Did your insurance company pay to have your carpets, furnishings, and clothing cleaned? This superficial type of remediation can be inadequate and fool you into thinking that “all is well”. Bacteria and mold could be spreading within the walls of your home, below the floor boards, or even deep within the material of your couch. Despite your previous efforts, it would behoove you to contact an Indoor Environmental Professional (IEP). For a few hundred dollars, you could save yourself thousands in medical bills, and a lifetime of suffering.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I remember that our local police, fire fighters, and EMT’s were stationing themselves in Seaside Heights because the bridges to and from the mainland were either closed or traffic was hours long. These heroic men and women, who worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of our community, don’t realize WDB exposure could continue to affect them many years later. I suggest all exposed emergency response personnel get tested to see if you are HLA susceptible, especially if you are suffering from a long list of seemingly unrelated medical issues. If you one of the 24% that is genetically susceptible, proactive measures can save your life.

Has your house or business been damaged by water from Hurricane Sandy or some other form of water damage? Do you have weird symptoms or have you been diagnosed with seemingly unrelated diseases without any or little relief of symptoms? Read more at MDWellnessMD.com or contact Dr. Rothman by calling 732-268-7663 and establish a better plan to help you get to the root cause of your symptoms.

The information in this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical conditions. Results are not guaranteed and may vary for each individual.