Mold bill clears first hurdle in Hartford
Hartford ― A bill to develop indoor air-quality standards for mold cleared its first hurdle Friday when the General Assembly’s Public Health Committee unanimously voted to advance S.B. 959.
The Public Health Committee, with bipartisan support, voted to pass the bill out of the committee and onto its consent calendar.
The bill has been sent to the Legislative Commissioners’ Office and will also be sent to the Office of Fiscal Analysis and the Office of Legislative Research before being assigned a calendar number.
Later in the session, the bill’s sponsors will advocate for it to be brought up on the Senate floor for a vote. If passed, it would go on to the House.
Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, who co-sponsored and proposed the idea behind the bill that the Public Health Committee introduced, said committee members recognized the significance of the difficulties that Groton and other parts of the state are experiencing, as Connecticut has no mold standard for indoor air quality.
Residents of Branford Manor, a federally subsidized housing development in the City of Groton, owned by Branford Manor Preservation, a subsidiary of Related Companies of New York, said mold and maintenance issues are affecting their health and quality of life.
The city and town of Groton have voted to hold Related in default of a tax abatement agreement, and a group of 16 residents filed a lawsuit against Related. Related previously said in a statement that the health and safety of residents are a priority, but the company has said it cannot comment due to the litigation.
At a Feb. 22 public hearing on the bill, local officials testified that they felt their hands were tied due to a lack of standards for mold. They said residents were suffering, while local officials were struggling with how to hold property owners accountable. They also said differences in what type of testing to use for mold led to delays in implementing a remediation plan for the property.
Some speakers called for immediate action and for comprehensive standards to go into effect as soon as possible. Some encouraged Connecticut to model its regulations on New York City’s Local Law 55, which “requires that owners of buildings with three or more apartments keep their tenants’ apartments free of mold and pests,” according to the New York City Housing Preservation and Development website.
Somers mentioned that when Ledge Light Health District goes in to inspect a unit, there is no specific standard for mold that the health district can measure against.
“I think we did a very good job explaining the difficulties that we’ve had and pressing for the urgency that something needs to be created,” Somers said Saturday about the unanimous vote.
Somers said that without mold standards, it’s hard to hold people, especially in the affordable housing business, accountable so they are required to act and make sure that apartments, townhouses, and other types of housing are clean and safe for the individuals living there.
The bill will direct the state Department of Public Health to develop the mold standards.
The DPH would be required to take action by Jan. 1, 2024 to evaluate guidance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop uniform standards for identifying and assessing mold in residential housing, as well as guidelines for limiting mold exposure.
The DPH would then report back to the Public Health Committee.
The DPH would also develop a public awareness campaign on how to prevent mold and what residents should do if they notice it.
Somers said it’s a good first step to help being able to hold someone like the Related Companies accountable for what’s happening at Branford Manor.
“We have to take these first intentional steps,” Somers said. “I know there’s people that have said it’s not quick enough but you can’t just jump from A to Z. You have to go through the process to create the standards.”
Somers explained that the typical process would be for the committee to discuss and hold a public hearing on the proposed standards. The committee could choose to adopt the standards to be widely applicable, or, as is more common, roll out the standards, starting with applying them to housing funded by the state or federal government.