It was bad enough when Tropical Storm Irene sent the Dog River in Vermont spilling over its banks, filling Chandar Hall’s basement, destroying the stairs and back door, toppling her oil tank and destroying thousands of dollars’ worth of stored books and clothing.
But since the storm more than 10 months ago, Hall, 39, says she has suffered such severe health problems from mold left behind by the flood that she had to stop working and move out. As of Monday, when money for emergency housing in a hotel runs out, she may be homeless.
Hall, who lives alone, and her friends say she has fallen into a gap between possible sources of help, and are hoping some private fundraising might help.
Her flood insurance just covered the structural damage to the stairs and back door, Hall said. When she later applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help with cleaning up the mold, she was told she was too late. After illness caused her to leave her job as a group home counselor at Washington County Mental Health Services, Hall said she was ineligible for unemployment because she was too sick to work.
FEMA spokesman David Mace said he could not comment on Hall’s case, but speaking generally, he said a person in her situation can still apply for assistance.
“Even if someone had flood insurance and later found out they had mold damage not covered by flood insurance, it could be eligible for assistance if they file the proper paperwork,” he said.
Hall’s small, one-bedroom home had been a source of pride to her since she bought it in 2004. “To buy my own house on my own and figure it out with no help … It’s sort of my greatest accomplishment (has) turned into my greatest nightmare.”
Bob Costantino, director of the disaster case management program for the state Agency of Human Services, said the state does not know how many people have been forced from their homes by mold after Irene. “Hopefully it’s just a handful,” he said.
The Vermont Health Department’s website urges cleaning up signs of mold shortly after a flood, but Hall says the extent of the problem in her home didn’t become apparent until several months after floodwaters from the Aug. 28 storm receded. Air tests performed in June found that the air in her basement — especially in the corner just below her bedroom — was dangerous.
There were elevated levels of penicillium mold, the kind from which the drug penicillin is made. But more worrisome were even higher levels of aspergillus mold, which is commonly found in damp, dark environments like basements. The Health Department website points mainly to respiratory problems resulting from exposure to that mold. Other studies have examined a possible link to neurological problems, like the migraine headaches, exhaustion and even convulsions Hall developed during the winter. She’s also reported kidney pain and lost appetite.
Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, public health scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in an email that “while the respiratory impacts of mold and damp buildings is well understood, the science of the neurological effects is still evolving. … The situation in Vermont after the floods caused by Irene has some similarities to New Orleans following Katrina and other places in the country ravaged by floods where flooded buildings resulted in hazardous conditions in homes.”
One study by a team of researchers in Texas said people living in mold-infested homes have developed a wide range of health problems, including nervous system problems like those reported by Hall.
Hall is now hoping her home will be condemned, so that she can become eligible for state housing assistance.
Her friends have set up a special fund to get Hall back on her feet. Fern Blood, a leader of the effort, said anyone wishing to donate should send a check to Chandar’s Companions, or Chandar Hall, P.O. Box 253, Waterbury Center, Vt. 05677.