Property owners undertaking home and business cleanup in the aftermath of Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan should take precautions to prevent future mold growth, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).
“By applying proper cleanup techniques in the early stages, property owners can avoid problems with mold later,” Keith Lessner, PCI’s vice president of loss control, commented. “The most important first steps are to get it dry, or get it out.”
Independent studies by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine have reportedly found no correlation between mold and serious health effects. However, if left unchecked, mold – a common fungus which can grow on anything from wood, paper, carpeting and food – can cause extensive property damage.
“Although healthy people aren’t affected, those who are sensitive to mold can exhibit symptoms like nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, or wheezing, and people with serious allergies or illnesses may have more serious reactions,” Lessner said. “The real problem with mold is its ability to gradually destroy whatever it’s growing on.”
Although cleanup priorities will vary based on the amount of damage – and whether structural safety and electrical and water systems have been restored – porous materials that are saturated and cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried with 24 to 48 hours should be thrown away, according to Lessner. Typically this will include saturated drywall, ceiling tiles, carpeting and other absorbent materials.
“Your main concern should be to thoroughly dry and clean your home or business before trying to live in it or make permanent repairs,” Lessner said. “Furniture, bedding, clothing and anything salvageable should be brought outside to dry and clean.”
Because floodwaters can contain sewage or other contaminants, property owners need to take special precautions, Lessner noted. Wearing protective clothing on legs, arms, feet and hands while cleaning up debris will help prevent illness, as will using a disinfectant in the cleanup process. Wash exposed skin frequently in soap and purified water, and wear rubber gloves.
Cleanup of a home or business’s interior should focus first on cleaning, disinfecting, and eliminating moisture. When tackling cleanup of the building’s walls and floors, use a hose to remove layers of mud from hard surfaces; then scrub and sanitize surfaces with a household cleanser or disinfectant and a brush to remove surface oil before rinsing with clean water.
To remove moisture in the air, use an air conditioner, dehumidifier and fans to circulate air and open all windows. Turn on electric lights in closets and leave doors open to dry things out.
If mold occurs in spite of these preventative measures, minor problems can be addressed by removing mold with commercial products or a weak bleach solution (one cup of bleach in one gallon of water). More extensive or serious mold problems will require professional remediation.
Insurance coverage for mold, and for flood cleanup in general, can vary from state to state, Lessner noted.
More than 40 state insurance departments have approved the ISO (Insurance Services Organization) mold exclusions for homeowners and property policies because its growth is typically a home maintenance issue. Mold is not excluded in Florida; however, most insurers have filed and received approval for a base mold sublimit of $10,000, with the ability for the policyholder to buy up into additional coverage limits.
However, the insurance industry has treated the coverage of mold on a case-by-case basis. Because insurance provides financial protection against fortuitous events – which are sudden, accidental, and unexpected – a policy could cover mold cleanup if the mold resulted from flooding or a ruptured pipe.
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