Mold problems often appear five to six weeks after a flood as evidenced by more than 545 individuals inquiring about mold clean-up at the state and federal disaster mitigation and home supply store outreach currently in Broome and Cortland, New York counties.
But steps can be taken to combat mold growth and its potential to cause serious health problems as well as structural damage to homes and businesses according to state and federal officials.
Mold is made up of simple microscopic organisms found virtually everywhere. Generally, mold growth occurs when three conditions prevail: a constant moisture source, a growing medium, and climatically favorable conditions – high heat and humidity. Limiting these three conditions helps keep mold at manageable levels.
Flood waters, as a moisture source, can be self limiting. Flood waters rise; flood waters ebb. But flood waters that invade a household can have long lasting affects unless steps are taken to lessen their impact. Removing some flood contaminated materials and household goods and thoroughly cleaning or drying out others are essential steps to combat mold.
Flood waters compromise household fixtures in different ways. Porous materials are nearly impossible to clean. Flood soaked carpets, carpet pads, fabric covered furniture, wet insulation and ceiling tiles should be disposed. There is no way to clean them. For heirloom rugs and furniture, contact a professional cleaner.
Appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, cooking stoves, dishwashers, hot water heaters, washing machines and driers contain insulation which may harbor mold spores without visible evidence and should be discarded.
Walls that are not completely dry may cause mold spores to grow, which may cause or aggravate asthma or respiratory problems in adults and children.
Surfaces such as wallboard, sheetrock and particle board should be discarded. Water can wick up higher than the visible water line. The best practice is to remove the wall board at least two feet above the water line and remove it.
When rebuilding, property owners living in flood-prone areas should consider using water-resistant materials such as WonderBoard, marine plywood or ceramic tile.
Non-porous surfaces, including glass, ceramic, metal and plastic, can be cleaned. Wash the area with a household detergent or disinfectant. Using a water and chlorine mixture can be caustic and should be applied with caution. Always follow diluting directions on the container and wear rubber gloves.
The foregoing measures may lessen two of the three conditions that encourage mold growth. Humidity is more difficult to control. New Yorkers affected by the early April floods may have less humid conditions than other areas of the country.
For more information about mold and mildew, visit www.fema.gov and enter a search for “Dealing with Mold and Mildew in your Flood Damaged Home.” Additional information may be found at www.epa.gov or www.health.state.ny.us and searching for mold. For information on energy-efficient appliances, visit www.nyserda.org.
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