Disaster recovery and health officials warn that victims of flooding after the recent hurricanes should clean flood-damaged homes thoroughly to avoid possible health problems from mold and mildew.
Mold growth is common in flood-damaged homes. It is important to clean and dry completely any areas that have gotten wet. Mold often appears in the form of discoloration, from white to orange, green, brown and black. Mold also gives off a musty or earthy smell.
“People are eager to get on with their lives after a flood, but if you had flood waters in your home, we encourage you to take the time to clean thoroughly so problems don’t arise later that affect your home or your health,” Federal Coordinating Officer Nick Russo said. “Don’t wait until an inspector comes to your home to clean. We would like folks to make their homes safe, sanitary and secure as soon as possible.”
State Coordinating Officer Mike Sherberger added, “It is important to quickly identify and correct any moisture sources before health problems develop. According to health officials, infants, children, immune-compromised patients, pregnant women, individuals with existing respiratory conditions (allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity and asthma), and the elderly may be at higher risks for adverse health effects from mold.”
Allergic reactions may be the most common health problem of mold exposure. Typical symptoms reported (alone or in combination) include:
* Respiratory problems, such as wheezing, and difficulty in breathing.
* Nasal and sinus congestion and shortness of breath.
* Eyes – burning, watery, reddened, blurry vision, light sensitivity.
* Dry, hacking cough and sore throat.
* Skin irritation, aches and pains, and possible fever.
Central nervous system problems (constant headaches, memory problems, and mood changes).
Before beginning work on a flooded home, turn off main power if wiring is wet or moldy. Have electrician check the house’s electrical system before turning power on again.
Remove as much mud as possible. Once an individual has checked the water system for leaks, hose down the inside of the house and its contents. It is best to use attachment that sprays soap to wash and rinse the walls, floors, furniture, sockets, electrical boxes, and other major items that got muddy. Use a non-ammonia soap or detergent, or a commercial cleaner, in hot water, and scrub the entire area affected by the mold. A stiff brush or cleaning pad works well on block walls or uneven surfaces. Rinse clean with water. A wet/dry vacuum is handy for this process.
Remove heating and cooling registers and ducts, then hose them to prevent contamination when blowing through the ducts at a later date. Next, wash with a disinfectant that is quaternary, phenolic, or pine-oil based. If ducts are in a slab or otherwise inaccessible, have them cleaned professionally.
Disinfect and dry the moldy area. It is critical to remove the source of moisture before beginning to clean up because mold growth will return if the area becomes wet again.
Bag and dispose of any material that has moldy residues, such as rags, paper, leaves, or debris. Harder materials such as glass, plastic, or metal can be kept after they are cleaned and disinfected.
Wear gloves when handling moldy materials. Moldy materials should be removed as follows:
Remove porous materials (examples: ceiling tiles, sheetrock, carpeting, wood products).
Carpeting can be a difficult problem – drying does not remove the dead spores. If there is heavy mold, consider replacing the carpet.
Allow the area to dry two or three days.
If flooded, remove all sheetrock to at least 12 inches above the high water mark.
Visually inspect the wall’s interior and remove any other intrusive molds. (This step may have to be carried out by a licensed contractor).
Use caution, as spores are easily released when moldy material is dried out. When cleaning these damaged materials, consider wearing a mask or using a respirator. Respirators can be purchased from hardware stores; select one for particle removal (sometimes referred to as a N95 or TC-21C particulate respirator). Respirators are not as effective at removing bleach fumes, so minimize the exposure when using bleach or other disinfectants.
After thorough cleaning and rinsing, disinfect the area with a solution of 10% household bleach (e.g., 1 1/2 cup bleach per gallon of water). Using bleach straight from the bottle will not be more effective. Never mix bleach with Ammonia – the fumes are toxic. Avoid excessive amounts of runoff or standing bleach, and make sure the working area is well ventilated.
Try cleaning a small test patch of mold first. If someone feels that this adversely affected their health, they should consider paying a licensed contractor or professional to carry out the work. Ask others to leave the areas when being cleaned, and work over short time spans and rest in a fresh air location. Air the house out well during and after the work.
Some final advice: Never use a gasoline engine indoors—it could expose people to carbon monoxide.
If mold odors persist, continue to dry out the area and search for any hidden areas of mold. If the area continues to smell musty, one may have to re-clean the area. Continue to dry and ventilate the area. Don’t replace flooring or begin rebuilding until the area has dried completely.
Renters, homeowners and business owners who suffered damage or uninsured losses as a result of flooding this month are encouraged to register for disaster assistance by calling the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). The TTY number for speech- and hearing-impaired applicants is 1-800-462-7585.
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