Flood-stricken residents should be wary of mold
By JAIME LUGIBIHL
November 5, 2002
HOUMA - Flooding from Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili may have
ebbed, but the accompanying health hazards have not.
While pulling out carpets and pouring bleach may seem the obvious solution to
cleaning a building after flooding, some experts warn that without proper care,
toxic molds can grow during the weeks following water damage.
More than 1,000 molds are found inside homes throughout the United States, where
they spread and reproduce by making spores.
A strand particularly prevalent in water-damaged homes is known as stachybotrys
chartarum. The greenish-black fungus grows on materials such as wallboard that
have been damaged through excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water
infiltration or flooding.
"There is some mold out there that can be very bad," said Eric Milton, a consultant
with Rimkus Group in Metairie. "Depending on how susceptible a person is to
it, they may start sneezing or get headaches or stuffy noses for days."
Milton pointed out that most people think that pouring bleach onto areas in
their buildings that were flooded will solve the mold problems, but that may
actually worsen the situation.
Most bleach is about 97 percent water, and after it wears off, only water is
"Eventually, they will notice mold growth in their homes," Milton said. "They
should have completely tore out all carpeting and the lower levels of paneling.
If they didn't do that, there could be potential mold growing underneath flooring
and behind walls."
Depending on the intensity of the mold growth, some people may already be suffering
health effects from the toxic molds.
Allergic reactions such as sneezing, runny noses, red eyes and skin rash are
common, as are irritated eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs.
Whether a person contracts help to eradicate mold or tries to do it himself,
officials from the Louisiana Office of Public Health suggest that those who
come into close contact with mold wear gloves, long-sleeve shirts, goggles and
In June 2001, officials at Nicholls State University learned the hard way that
a quick clean of a building after flooding often creates long-term problems.
After Tropical Storm Allison, Gouaux Hall was reopened right after floodwaters
entered the building.
However, mold began growing behind walls and under floors, eventually entering
the air-ducts and blowing throughout the building.
"It was like putting something in the back of the refrigerator and thinking
it wouldn't spoil," said John Green, a professor of biological sciences at Nicholls.
"Well, it spoiled."
Eventually, Nicholls had to call in a professional firm to clean the entire
building, room by room, costing approximately $160,000.
Green said that the same could happen for those who have not properly cleaned
their houses after the recent storms.
Even mild mold growth can cause health effects, perhaps causing a headache at
certain times of the day, when the mold spores are blown throughout a building,
"Sometimes, people just spot check their house for mold," he said. "They think
it is growing where you can see it. It doesn't grow in the light. It likes dark."
If a person suspects mold, Green suggests taking a sample from behind a wall
by cutting away a small section and examining the condition of the insulation
Although mold will always be present in minor amounts in the air and on dust,
massive amounts can be moderated by controlling moisture indoors.
If a mold problem is already present, Green said the only way to completely
eradicate it is by cleaning up the mold and fixing the water problem.
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