A health visitor wrote to housing officials expressing concern about conditions in a rented apartment months before a two-year-old died after being exposed to mould.
A Rochdale investigation is investigating the death of young Awaab Ishak who was living with his mother and father in a one-bedroom apartment run by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH).
The forensic court issued photographs from inside the apartment showing copious amounts of black mold in the kitchen and bathroom.
Awab’s father, Faisal Abdullah, first reported damp and mildew in fall 2017, a year before his son was born. He made many complaints – phone call and email – and asked for rehousing.
In December 2020, he developed flu-like symptoms and had trouble breathing. He was treated in the hospital and then discharged from the hospital.
Two days later his condition worsened at home and he was seen at Rochdale Urgent Care Center where he was found to be suffering from respiratory failure. He was taken to the Royal Oldham Hospital, where upon arrival he had a heart attack and died. It was a week after his second birthday.
The pathologist told the investigation that the child’s throat was so swollen that it obstructed breathing. Fungal exposure was the most plausible explanation for the inflammation.
On Tuesday, he heard the investigation from health visitor Carolyn Ryan who first saw black mold and dampness in the apartment’s kitchen and bathroom.
In July 2020, during the lockdown, she wrote a letter to housing officials at RBH raising concerns about the amount of mold and noting that exposure to it can have serious health consequences, especially in children. I requested that priority be given to the family’s rehousing application.
Ryan said she received no response at the time and Abdullah asked her to resend the letter in November.
She said she did not convey her concerns about the apartment to the family doctor because when she saw Awab, he was not feeling well.
Lawyers for the family say the investigation will look into a number of issues, including concerns about mold and moisture and how to deal with them. It will also consider sharing information between agencies and how to take into account the cultural and linguistic requirements of the family.
RBH officials did not provide evidence in the investigation, but a statement was submitted to the coroner on Tuesday in which the RBH acknowledges that it “should have taken responsibility for the mold issues and take a more proactive response.”
Richard Blackaway, Housing Ombudsman for England, told the inquiry the law needed to be strengthened to force landlords to tackle mold and dampness. It has not been given the same legal status for gas and bacteria safety, he said.
Blakeway told Radio 4 on Tuesday that there are mold problems in about 3% of social housing properties and even higher in private rental housing.
“We have seen a significant increase in business related to moisture and mold,” he said, referring to a report published by the ombudsman a year ago “because we were very concerned about what we were seeing.”
This report advocated a “zero tolerance” approach to moisture and mildew. “For families who suffer from it, they can experience profound damage. It can lead to distress, it can affect their property, and they can be embarrassed about their living environment.”
He said that owners were often defensive, dismissive, or murderous. The responsibility to sort it out rests with the owner.
Abdullah said before the investigation: We have a number of questions that we hope the investigation process will answer. We want to make sure that any lessons that can be learned are acted upon and that no other family has to go through this.”
An investigation by the Manchester Evening News found that other families on the same property, the Freehold estate, were still living in rotting and damp housing, 18 months after the two-year-old’s death.
The investigation, conducted by chief forensic pathologist Joanne Kersley, is still ongoing.