I was terrified by my boy’s constant cough and weepy eyes – our home was making him sick but we were trapped

HOME is meant to be a safe place for any child – but damp and mould can put them at risk of deadly respiratory problems.

An inquest this week heard how two-year-old Awaab Ishak died after “chronic exposure to harmful mould” in December 2020, despite his parents repeatedly raising concerns about the mould in their flat.

Awaab Ishak died after “chronic exposure to harmful mould” in December 2020

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Awaab Ishak died after “chronic exposure to harmful mould” in December 2020Credit: PA
Lauren Harper and son Theo, who got sick because of poor housing they were living in

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Lauren Harper and son Theo, who got sick because of poor housing they were living inCredit: Supplied

Senior coroner Joanne Kearsley said: “I’m sure I’m not alone in having thought, ‘How does this happen? How, in the UK in 2020, does a two-year-old child die from exposure to mould in his home?’

“The tragic death of Awaab will and should be a defining moment for the housing sector in terms of increasing knowledge, increasing awareness and a deepening of understanding surrounding the issue of damp and mould.”

Awaab died from a respiratory condition caused by chronic exposure to mould in the one-bedroom housing association flat where he lived with parents Faisal Abdullah and Aisha Aminin in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

His parents complained repeatedly to the authorities, but no action was taken and Awaab was taken to Rochdale Urgent Care Centre where he went into respiratory and then cardiac arrest while being transferred to Royal Oldham Hospital, where he died.

There are families – like Awaab’s – up and down the country living in homes that aren’t fit for purpose, ravaged by mould and lacking ventilation.

And with the cost of living crisis making energy costs soar, many will be at further risk of respiratory conditions if they are unable to afford to heat their homes.  

Lauren Harper, 22, a bartender from Buckinghamshire saw her son Theo, 3, admitted to hospital due to poor housing in 2019.

Lauren said: “We were in private rent at the time. We moved in around January 2019 and the mould started in September 2019. 

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“We told our landlord who did try his best to help us, but all we could do was to buy dehumidifiers, use mould spray and open the windows. 

“We lived in the top floor flat of a small block so we’d been drying our clothes inside as we didn’t have any garden space but we had to stop doing that. 

“The landlord did repaint it after a few months but it came back.

“We were visited by a professional who told us he could treat it with products to ensure a low chance of returning but the landlord refused to pay for it, telling us he’d try and sort it out himself to get rid of the mould completely and for good.

“The professional that came in told us the mould was the dangerous type – Stachybotrys. 

“We were told if it returns, environmental health and the owner of the block of flats needed to be contacted, yet the landlord didn’t do this.

“Theo was a tiny baby at the time, just five months old but a month after the mould first appeared, he got bronchitis which we had to go to the hospital for in October 2019.

“This started months of back and forth to the GP and hospital. He’d get chest infections, viral illnesses. 

‘CONSTANT COUGH

“We knew it was the flat and the mould causing it because we were in lockdown so it wasn’t even like he was around other children.

“He had a constant cough, constant weepy eyes, he was lethargic all the time and would sleep for hours. 

“We knew it was the mould, but we were trapped, we couldn’t afford to move and our landlord wouldn’t fix it properly. 

“In addition to making Theo ill it ruined shoes, furniture, his cot and toys too.

“I was terrified. I was a young mum who wasn’t working, relying on universal credit. 

“Whilst we managed to get by, we couldn’t afford to save for a bigger place, and the council wouldn’t help despite us consistently contacting them with proof of the living conditions and Theo’s illnesses. 

“We even had doctors and hospital notes stating the mould was a contributing factor to his condition.

“It got to the point where we would go out for whole days, walking around the shopping centres, or spending all day and evening at other family members’ houses just to avoid letting Theo be in those conditions.

“We managed to move in October 2020, after my friend told me they were moving from their private rent and the landlord needed new tenants.

“Since moving, Theo has been so much healthier. The number of hospital and GP visits have reduced. 

“Theo is now in preschool so still occasionally catches sickness bugs, but he’s nowhere near as ill as he was when he was in our other flat.”

Need to know: mould

Mould can emit spores, cells, fragments and “volatile organic compounds” into the air.

Inhaling or touching mould spores can cause an allergic reaction, such as sneezing, a runny nose, red eyes and skin rash, and trigger asthma attacks.

There is evidence to suggest mould exposure can lead to rare conditions including hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic alveolitis, chronic rhinosinusitis and allergic fungal sinusitis.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

NHS.uk says: “If you have mould or damp it’s important to find out why you have excess moisture in your home.

“When you know what’s causing the damp, you can make sure your home is repaired or take steps to limit the moisture in the air.

“You may need to get a professional to remove mould for you, but if it’s only a small amount you may be able to remove it yourself.”

Citizens Advice offers tips for tenants to ensure their landlord resolves damp or mould issues.

REMEMBER

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive at Asthma and Lung UK, said: “Babies, small children, older people and people with allergies are more likely to be affected.

“Mould and damp in houses are worse when temperatures drop in the winter, and cold and flu viruses, which can cause respiratory infections, can also thrive in colder temperatures and poorly ventilated, damp environments.

“Asthma and Lung UK is warning people, people those with lung conditions to be vigilant against mould and damp, including keeping your home well ventilated.”

Visit asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/moulds-and-fungi/ or call the Asthma and Lung UK helpline on 0300 222 5800, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.

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