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Mold, the new 4-letter word for owners.

Mold growth and inadequate fire prevention can become costly if not addressed properly by building owners, according to professionals who spoke at the Associated Builders & Owners of Greater New York Inc. symposium May 29.

But consulting with experts and being properly insured may limit liability, the professionals added.

The symposium was also hosted by Acordia Northeast Inc., a national insurance brokerage firm, whose representatives said the insurance industry has had to adjust to the many issues in a post-Sept. 11, 2001 world.

"It's been a rocky road in the insurance industry over the past couple of years," said Judy Robinson, managing director of the New York office of Acordia. "Catastrophic losses sent reinsurers running from the New York marketplace limiting capacity and driving prices up."

Some of those losses may be attributed to the recent toxic mold claims that have increased over the past few years, said Daniel Beck, New York region underwriting manager of AIG Environmental.

"Toxic mold claims have increased from 228 in 2000 to 1,188 in the first half of 2001," said Beck, of the claims filed nationwide. "That's well by 10-fold."

In 2001, an insurance carrier in Texas paid a homeowner $32 million in damages, after being sued for not properly handling a mold claim, according to the Independent Insurance Carriers Association.

Normal allergic reaction to spores that are produced from indoor mold growth can produce a runny nose, eye irritation, cough and congestion. There are approximately 100,000 types of mold. Only 300 are known to be harmful to humans, said Howard White, executive vice president, of Maxons Restoration Inc. that remediates mold.

Some studies suggest that severe health effects such as pulmonary hemosiderosis, bleeding in the lungs, can occur in infants younger than six months old, according to the New York City Department. of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Three factors have to be present in order for mold to grow - moisture, warmth and organic material for the mold to feed upon. Mold can grow in wood, drywall, carpet and dust, White said.

"A lot of what you see is water damage gone bad," said White. "You are all about being pro-active in the issues we face in the real estate industry. It's all about prevention and avoidance."

Cleaning up water damage before mold starts to grow is important, but once mold is present in an area over 30 SF remediation experts should be consulted, according to the guidelines of the Department of Health.

In 1993, the health department along with Mt. Sinai Occupational Health Clinic developed guidelines to be used by building engineers and management to address health issues, Environmental assessment, remeditation and hazard communication as it relates to indoor mold' growth.

Building owners can be insured for mold infestation, but prices have followed the, current market rate just like any other hazard insurance.

"The biggest thing you had to worry about 10 years ago was lead," said Nicholas La Porte, executive director of ABO. "Now you need mold insurance.

Along with preventing mold growth, owners should also keep abreast of the current fire codes to assure their buildings are in compliance, but even adhering to the code may not be enough.

Although the fire code does not require electric-wired smoke detection systems in residential units, fire prevention experts say battery operated systems just aren't dependable if not checked on a regular basis.

"We recommend a hard-wired smoke detection system that you don't have to rely on the tenants," said Michael Nicoletta,. of RJA fire protection consultants. "During inspections we've found batteries missing, smoke detectors missing, or they just don't operate."

Other fire prevention measures are regular maintenance of fire escapes, checking to assure exit paths are clear and making sure doors close to prevent the spread of fire and smoke should a fire occur.
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Author:Nelson, Barbara
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jun 4, 2003
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