With W.V. Floods Over, Mold Takes Center Stage

October 12, 2004

Toxic molds will reportedly continue to be a problem during October cleanup efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, federal and state disaster officials advise.

“Although mold is less common at this time of year in West Virginia than in hot, humid states like Texas or Florida, favorable conditions of high humidity and warm temperature remain for West Virginia homes and businesses that experienced flooding'” said Lou Botta, federal coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “Cool nighttime temperatures will slow the growth of mold, but won’t stop it.”

Once utilities are reconnected and a house or business is heated, normal room temperature causes any mold still lurking behind walls or under wood sub-flooring to multiply. Removal of wet materials and cleaning all surfaces exposed to flood water is required for fungal control.

“When floodwater has soaked carpeting, wallboard, the insulation behind the wallboard, and wood sub-flooring, those materials need to be removed and replaced,” said Steve Kappa, state coordinating officer for the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services (WVOES). Otherwise, the toxic form of mold can continue to grow unnoticed for months, due to the moisture those areas will continue to hold.

According to the EPA and the American Lung Association, once mold is discovered, any mold, it is not so important to identify it as to get rid of it. The rule of thumb is simple: if one sees mold, destroy it.

There are four steps for flood cleanup and mold removal: 1) Getting rid of standing water and moisture; 2) Removing soaked materials; 3) Disinfecting all surfaces; and 4) Thorough drying.

For porous materials that have started to mold, such as sofas, mattresses and carpeting, it’s best to apply this rule: when in doubt, throw it out. After wet vacuuming, remove and discard all soaked porous building materials such as wallboard and insulation (wall, floor, ceiling).

Cleaning requires use of a disinfectant such as a 10 percent bleach solution.

For homes or businesses that are prone to periodic flooding it may be worth investing in water-resistant or waterproof wallboard and paneling alternatives. Check with a local building materials supplier for brands and availability. When replacing fiberglass or blown insulation consider using rigid foam, which doesn’t need to be discarded.

There appears to be confusion as to the identification of molds and which are the most toxic. But since all molds have the potential to affect quality of health, it is best to err on the side of safety and remove all sources of moisture and moldy materials.

For more information refer to the FEMA Web site at www.fema.gov. There is also a FEMA publication called “cleaning up” that can be found on the West Virginia Builders Association Web site, www.hbawv.org.

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