Flood-stricken residents should be wary of mold
The Courier
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 left.

"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 dust masks.

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, he said.

"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 and paneling.

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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