Mold. This growing, not-so-sexy issue is cropping up all over Long Island due to storm and flood damages from Superstorm Sandy. So how do you detect it? What are the health ramifications from exposure to mold? What can be done to protect your home and your family?
Mold and mold spores are found naturally in all our environments both indoor and outdoor. Not all mold is toxic and some molds are even beneficial, like penicillin. Other molds are super toxic and can cause very serious health problems. As per the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the CDC, of the 100,000 or so known fungal species found on the planet, about 500 species are currently thought to be harmful to people. Mold spores are actually alive and growing and can cause health problems even when they are dead.
According to a study published by Indoor Air, Fisk and Berkeley Laboratory colleagues in June of 2007, it was “found that dampness and mold exposures increase the occurrence of a range of respiratory problems by 30–50%.” Generally, exposure to and inhalation of mold is especially dangerous for children, the elderly, those with a weakened immune system or immune deficiency. The most common symptoms are allergic and asthmatic reactions, irritations of the ear, nose and throat and sinus congestion, but even small sources of mold can also cause severe illness when someone is exposed over a prolonged period of time. “When mold spores are present in abnormally high quantities, they can present especially hazardous health risks to humans, including allergic reactions or poisoning by mycotoxins, or causing fungal infection (mycosis).” (Wikipedia: Mold Health Issues)
Mold and mold spores can enter your body through your eyes, mucous membranes and skin through minor cuts and abrasions, so you should take care to carefully cover all exposed areas of your body when working in mold filled areas or removing mold damaged items.
When dealing with major storm or water damage, it is critical to eliminate moisture and completely dry out the areas that got wet. You must also make sure there are no leaks and eliminate any new sources of water. According to the EPA, “Flood water may have high levels of raw sewage or other hazardous substances. Early symptoms from exposure to contaminated flood water may include upset stomach, intestinal problems, headache and other flu-like discomfort. Anyone experiencing these and any other problems should immediately seek medical attention.” You should take care to be very careful when dealing with sewage contaminated areas and this type of storm damage.
In the June 2006 report Mold Prevention Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of Hurricanes and Major Floods, the CDC concluded that “excessive exposure to mold-contaminated materials can cause adverse health effects in susceptible persons regardless of the type of mold or the extent of contamination.”
Not all mold will be easy to detect. According to the EPA,”if visible mold growth is present, sampling is (likely) unnecessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building's compliance with federal mold standards. Surface sampling may be useful to determine if an area has been adequately cleaned or remediated. Sampling for mold should be conducted by professionals who have specific experience in designing mold sampling protocols, sampling methods, and interpreting results.”
If your damages are extensive or your home has been exposed to toxic water, you may need to hire a company to complete mold testing, mold remediation or removal of contaminated storm damage. You should carefully check their references, ask for their license and insurance and look for companies that are affiliated with reputable organizations, such as remediation organizations or the Better Business Bureau.
Removing all porous materials immediately is extremely important. The sooner these are removed, the less likely it is that mold will develop. Saturated items will start to grow mold within 24-48 hours if not removed. If you see visible areas of mold in your home you must find the source of the moisture that is feeding it in order to eliminate it. Mold cannot grow unless there is moisture present, so it is critical to eliminate all sources of moisture immediately to stop the growth. Painting over mold will not stop the growth once it is there. It will just come right through the paint again and will cause the paint to peel.
Always discard all soaked items to prevent re-occurance of mold growth. Porous, non-cleanable items include carpeting, carpet padding, upholstery, wallpaper, drywall, ceiling tiles, insulation material, plywood, some clothing, leather, paper, some wood and wood products, and food. Give special attention to cleaning children's toys, cribs, playpens and play equipment and boil any items a toddler or baby might put in his or her mouth. You should always discard stuffed toys, water-logged toys and non-cleanable items.
In order to remove mold you must stop the source of moisture, kill the mold spores, wipe the area clean (remove the visible stain and spores) and allow the area to dry completely. There are various products on the market to remove mold and stop it’s re-growth. Additionally, there are various products which claim to prevent mold from coming back by encapsulating the spores and creating an invisible shield.
Take extra precautions when cleaning up mold. Protect yourself by wearing proper clothing and protective masks. If you choose to use chemicals to clean up, be careful about using toxic chemicals and biocides like bleach that may let off VOC’s and harmful fumes, especially when heated. Bleach can be even more toxic than mold. Although bleach will clean away exterior mold, care must be taken to thoroughly clean any porous surfaces and remove the spores after they are dead. Removing any residual moisture can help prevent recurring issues. Bleach is a toxic material, so extra care should be taken with it’s use and disposal. Better yet, look for products that have no VOC’s, are non toxic or are registered with the EPA.
When treating large areas with preventative chemicals (entire rooms or floors of your home) consider using a fogging machine so the product can disperse throughout hard to reach, unseen or hidden areas and ventilation ductwork. Fogging machines can be rented by the day at most local hardware stores that offer tool rental. It is very important that the entire area be clean and dry prior to fogging with an encapsulating chemical treatment in order for this process to be effective.
The EPA suggests following these guidelines to prevent and control mold growth in your home:
- When water leaks or spills occur indoors - ACT QUICKLY. If wet or damp materials or areas are dried 24-48 hours after a leak or spill happens, in most cases mold will not grow.
- Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
- Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.
- Keep air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
- Keep indoor humidity low. Ideally indoor humidity should be below 60 percent (ideally between 30 and 50 percent) relative humidity. Relative humidity can be measured with a moisture or humidity meter, a small, inexpensive ($10-$50) instrument available at many hardware stores.
- If you see condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes ACT QUICKLY to dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture/water source. Condensation can be a sign of high humidity.
- Reduce humidity by venting dryers and appliances that produce moisture outdoors.
- Use air conditioners/humidifiers when needed.
- Always run the bathroom fan or open a window when showering and use your kitchen exhaust fan when cooking or running the dishwasher.
Home Cleanup and Sanitation guidelines from the National AG Safety Database:
- Wash exposed skin frequently in purified water. Wear rubber gloves to protect against contamination and skin irritation.
- Try using a pump-up garden sprayer or hose to remove layers of mud from hard surfaces.
- Scrub with a household cleaner/detergent solution and a brush to remove remaining surface oil. Rinse with clean water.
- Wash with a disinfectant, such as chlorine bleach, pine oil or a phenolic product, such as Lysol. Remember, a product is considered to be a "disinfectant" only if it is labeled as such. Rinse well.
- Dry items thoroughly to prevent mildew growth.
- Sanitize dishes, cooking utensils and food preparation areas before using them.
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