Make mold mitigation top priority in flood cleanupYour basement was flooded during the recent storm – and now what? You can haul away the soggy cardboard boxes, the waterlogged family room furniture and the ruined furnace and water heater and begin the hard work of cleaning up. But there is an often hidden and far more insidious interloper following a storm or flood – mold.
Your basement was flooded during the recent storm – and now what? You can haul away the soggy cardboard boxes, the waterlogged family room furniture and the ruined furnace and water heater and begin the hard work of cleaning up. But there is an often hidden and far more insidious interloper following a storm or flood – mold.
Excess moisture and standing water contribute to the growth of mold in homes and other buildings, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) urges homeowners that when returning to a home that has been flooded, be aware that mold may be present and pose a serious health risk for your family.
What sort of a threat does mold present?
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says mold spores can germinate and grow in a moist or damp environment on any surface that contains organic matter. A home that’s been flooded can provide ideal conditions for the growth and proliferation of mold.
According to the CDC, people with asthma, allergies, or other breathing conditions may be more sensitive to mold. People with immune suppression (such as people with HIV infection, cancer patients taking chemotherapy, and people who have received an organ transplant) are more susceptible to mold infections. People who are sensitive to mold may experience stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing, or skin irritation. People allergic to mold may have difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath. People with weakened immune systems and with chronic lung diseases, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs. If you or your family members have health problems after exposure to mold, contact your doctor or other health care provider as soon as possible.
In addition to health complaints, the MDH states that mold damages building materials, goods or furnishings when it grows on them. Mold growth and moisture may eventually compromise the building’s structural integrity as well. Because of potential health concerns and damage to property, molds should not be allowed to grow and multiply indoors.
How will I know if it’s mold?
The CDC suggests there are basically two ways to determine if there is mold growth in your home:
+ Sight (are the walls and ceiling discolored, or do they show signs of mold growth or water damage?)
+ Smell (do you smell a bad odor, such as a musty, earthy smell or a foul stench?)
The Department of Health says to look for visible mold growth (which may appear cottony, velvety, granular or leathery and have varied colors of white, gray, brown, black, yellow, green). Mold often appears as discoloration, staining or fuzzy growth on the surface of building materials or furnishings.
Homeowners are advised to search areas with noticeable mold odors.
Look for signs of excess moisture or water damage. Look for water leaks, standing water, water stains and condensation problems. For example, do you see any watermarks or discoloration on walls, ceilings, carpet, woodwork or other building materials?
Search behind and underneath materials (carpet and pad, wallpaper, vinyl flooring, sink cabinets), furniture or stored items. Sometimes destructive techniques may be needed to inspect and clean enclosed spaces where mold and moisture are hidden – opening up a wall cavity, for example, to get to the moldy area.
Is there any way I can prevent the spread of mold?
+ Clean up and dry out the building quickly (within 24 to 48 hours) says the CDC. Open doors and windows. Use fans to dry out the building. Remove all porous items that have been wet for more than 48 hours and that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried. These items can remain a source of mold growth unless removed. Porous, non-cleanable items include carpeting and carpet padding, upholstery, wallpaper, drywall, floor and ceiling tiles, insulation material, some clothing, leather, paper, wood, and food. Removal and cleaning are important because even dead mold may cause allergic reactions in some people.
To prevent mold growth, the CDC advises you clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water.
If there is mold growth in your home, you should clean up the mold and fix any water problem, such as leaks in roofs, walls, or plumbing. Controlling moisture in your home is the most critical factor for preventing mold growth.
To remove mold growth from nonporous hard surfaces such as walls, floors and tables, Carlton County Emergency Manager Brian Belich suggests you scrub first with soap and water and rinse with water. Then mix one-fourth to one-half cup bleach with a gallon of water, wipe surfaces with this bleach mix and allow to air dry. This mixture can hurt your skin and lungs, so use with caution. Wear gloves and old clothes that cover your skin as well as protective eye wear. Open windows and doors and use a fan to blow the air outside. Use dehumidifiers.
Belich cautioned that homeowners should not mix bleach with other products, and use it with caution.
If you plan to be inside the building for a while or you plan to clean up mold, the CDC states you buy an N95 mask at your local hardware or home supply store and wear it while in the building. Make certain that you follow instructions on the package for fitting the mask tightly to your face. If you go back into the building for a short time and are not cleaning up mold, you do not need to wear an N95 mask.
Non-porous materials can be saved if they are properly cleaned and dried and then kept that way.
Do not use the bleach mix for dishes, children’s toys or surfaces that hold food, and do not use on porous surfaces like carpet or ceiling tile. Look for mold on porous items that may have absorbed moisture– including sheet rock, insulation, plaster, carpet/carpet pad, ceiling tiles, wood (other than solid wood), and paper products. If you see evidence of mold, these items should be removed, bagged and thrown out. Porous materials that may have been in contact with sewage should also be bagged and thrown away.
Do not eat, drink or smoke in the contaminated area, since disease-causing organisms from sewage or floodwater may be present.
The MDH suggests enclosing moldy items in plastic before you carry them out, urging that when transporting moldy materials, use the shortest path into and out of the building. It might be a good idea to hang plastic sheeting to seal off the work area, and be sure to remove the outer layer of your work clothes before leaving the work area. Bag any contaminated clothes or wash them separately, and damp clean all surfaces in and around the work area to remove any fine dust.
In the days ahead, the MDH urges affected homeowners to be vigilant in continuing to keep an eye out for signs of moisture or new mold growth, paying special attention to areas where mold grew previously. If the mold returns, repeat the cleaning process, and consider using a stronger disinfecting solution. The MDH says new mold growth may mean that the contaminated material should be removed, or that you still have a moisture problem.
Above all, be patient about rebuilding your home or getting new furnishings. Wait until everything has been completely cleaned and dried – and remember that drying out wet building materials may take a long time.