The death of an “attractive, lively and lovable” two-year-old from prolonged exposure to mold in his family’s flat should be a “defining moment” for the UK housing sector, a coroner said.
Awab Ishaq died in 2020, eight days after his second birthday, as a direct result of black mold in the apartment where he lived.
Around 450,000 homes in England have condensation and mold problems and the ruling has prompted calls from paediatricians to better report air quality problems in homes. Housing Ombudsman for England Richard Blakeway said landlords should put in place plans to address the “real risk of exacerbation of damp and mold problems” as energy bills rise.
Michael Gove, the Minister for Settlement, Housing and Communities, said the death was an “unacceptable tragedy” and that he “whens the belief” that the social housing provider’s chief executive remains in office. But he also said the government had been too slow to tighten regulation of social housing.
“It’s been five years since the Grenfell tragedy, we should have passed legislation earlier,” he said. He also admitted his concerns about the living conditions of tenants during the cost of living crisis.
Greg Vail, vice president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, said the ruling “tragically underscored” the “hidden danger” to public health that mold poses.
“It’s a big threat,” he said. “We are in a winter where people will turn down the heating in a way that encourages more humidity in our homes.”
After recording a narrative finding at Rochdale Coroner’s Court, lawyers for Oab’s parents read a statement accusing the social housing provider, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), of doing nothing over several years to remedy the mold problem that had killed them. Son.
“We can’t tell you how many health professionals have cried in front of housing staff in the Rochdale area who we’ve asked to express their concern…we shouted as loud as we could,” they said.
They accused RBH of not caring and said they had no doubt they were treated in this way “because we are not from this country and less aware of how systems work in the UK.
“Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, we have a message for you: Stop the discrimination. Stop the racism. Stop treating people from abroad who are refugees or asylum seekers. Stop putting people in homes you know are uninhabitable. We are left feeling uninhabitable. Absolutely valuable at the hands of RBH.”
The mold that killed Awab was in the bathroom and kitchen of the flat in Rochdale he shared with his parents, Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Amin. Abdullah first reported the mold to RBH in 2017.
Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said a number of things went wrong, some of which contributed to his death.
She said, “Awab Ishaq died as a result of an acute respiratory illness resulting from prolonged exposure to mold in his home environment.” No action is taken to treat and prevent mold. His respiratory condition caused him to stop breathing.”
“I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking: How does this happen? How, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old die from exposure to mold in his home?
“The tragic death of OAP will be, and should be, a defining moment for the housing sector in terms of increasing knowledge, raising awareness, and deepening understanding of the damp and mold issue.”
“I hope you know OAB will make a difference to others,” Kearsley said, addressing the family.
Chief doctors have called on the UK government to create a reporting channel for tenants to raise the alarm about indoor air quality problems and to help with needed improvements.
Dr Camilla Kingdon, chair of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Mounting evidence suggests that an increasing number of families are living in poor quality housing, with adverse effects on children’s health.” “Cold and damp housing conditions can increase the risk of asthma, respiratory infections, slowed cognitive development, and increased risk of disability and mental health problems in children.”
Abdullah arrived in the UK from Sudan in 2016 and his wife joined him in 2017. He had some understanding and ability to speak English. His wife had little English.
After mold was reported in 2017, Abdullah was asked to paint it, which he did several times.
Kearsley said she was convinced Abdullah would “never fully understand how to treat mold with anti-mold paint/treatment”.
In 2020, Abdullah instructed attorneys via a claims firm. It was RBH’s policy – and that of other service providers in the industry – not to remedy breakdowns until an agreement was reached from the plaintiff’s attorney.
RBH accepted at the investigation that a more proactive approach to mold remediation should have been taken. A health visitor also, twice, wrote to RBH in 2020, expressing concern about mold and the negative health effects it could have.
Kearsley said the mold was caused by “normal daily living activities” and a lack of effective ventilation. “I find as a matter of fact that no action was taken and from July 2020 through December 2020 the gnats continued to have chronic exposure to harmful mold.”
The coroner expressed concern about a “clear gap” in information sharing between health visitors, midwives, early help services and the GP.
Awab was treated at the Royal Oldham Hospital on December 19 and released from hospital. Curlsey said the family should have been told to call an ambulance or take him directly to the Royal Oldham Hospital if he had further difficulties. He died on December 21.
Mold in real estate, Kearsley said, is not specific to Rochdale, or to social housing. She backed a call for government standards for decent homes to be strengthened to include dampness and mold, and said she would write a report to prevent future deaths and send it to government ministers.
Awab’s parents said that their son was a beautiful boy. “He was always full of smiles. He loved a joke and was full of life. He enjoyed playing on his bike. He always wanted to be with us. His absence leaves a huge void.” They said they hope RBH will handle a case similar to theirs in a “humane, efficient and professional” manner.
Rbh CEO Gareth Swarbrick said in a statement that he was “truly devastated about OAP’s death and the things we have done wrong.” He said nothing could bring Al-Awab back, but added: “We have learned and we will continue to learn the hard lessons from this.
“We did not realize the level of risk to the health of a young child from mold in the family home. We allowed a statutory reform process, widely used in the housing sector, to impede mold to be addressed urgently. We must make sure this does not happen again. We must The death of Al-Awab is a wake-up call for everyone in housing, social care and health.
“We will have a responsibility to share what we have learned about the impact of damp, condensation and mold on health with the social housing sector and beyond.
“The pathologist recognized the changes we had made to our procedures, ICT and training. We note the pathologist’s words being impressed by what RBH learned and willing to share it with others.”