The sun has returned to the Golden Isles following Hurricane Irma and throughout the community residents can be found picking up the fallen pieces. For some, damage was minimal with tree branches or light debris. Others, sadly, experienced serious flooding.
For those folks, the damage poses more than one problem. On top of the loss of personal items, flood damage could impact a family’s health. Mold is a very serious risk for those who have experienced flooding.
According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IMNA), mold in damp indoor locations can bring about upper respiratory troubles, coughing and hypersensitivity pneumonitis in susceptible persons and wheezing. For those with asthma, it could exacerbate breathing problems.
Dr. Danielle Shelton, a family medicine physician at Glynn Family Medicine Center, a strategic affiliate of Southeast Georgia Health System, says that there is a link between fungal growth and asthma, allergic rhinitis, as well as more serious conditions such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
“It is important to make sure that any contaminated areas which have mold embedded, such as porous walls, floors, carpets or upholstered areas, be removed or replaced to prevent such conditions from developing,” she said.
Some molds are more dangerous and do contain toxins, but the IMNA cautions that only a few fungi actually contain those. Still, the organization stresses that individuals should limit their exposure to mold.
Sally Silbermann, public information officer and risk communicator at the Coastal Health District, said taking care of mold generally falls to home and property owners. The health district is often confused for an agency that helps address mold problems. Silbermann said that is not true.
“Once we have a storm, I start getting emails and phone calls and I hate to tell people, ‘Sorry we can’t help,’ but it is just not something that we do,” she said. “We do have some oversight when it comes to hotels and motels, but that is all.”
But there are many straightforward ways to address mold. The first is hiring a certified mold expert to access and take care of the situation. That, however, could prove cost prohibitive for some recovering from the storm.
The first step, according to documents issued jointly by organizations like FEMA and Centers for Disease Control, is drying out the property. That includes things that do not seem to be moldy.
To begin, protective clothing should be gathered before entering the home. Flooded spaces could be contaminated with bacteria, viruses and sewage. Covering the hands and face are key for moving forward with the cleanup. The organizations recommend wearing an N-95 respirator if one intends to spend a lot of time in the property. Gloves and long sleeves will also help keep skin safe from contaminates. In addition, goggles should be worn to protect the eyes from dust and other particles. Boots and pants will also keep the body protected.
Once the body is covered, all wet items should be removed and taken outside to dry. Things that are soft, like cloth furniture and carpets, must be removed and are likely unsalvageable. Others with hard surfaces must be cleaned with a bleach solution to kill the mold. A mixture of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water can be used to clean those items. Once the cleaning is completed, individuals should change their clothes before entering a new location to ensure that mold is not carried.
After that has been completed by a property owner, the area should be cleared by a professional mold inspector to ensure that none is left on site. A careful inspection of the area of cleanup and absence of mold-related odors is usually what they look for, rather than testing. That is due to the fact that mold testing can be confusing and misleading. The multi-agency organization notes that inspection of the property by a professional is usually all that is required to clear a space.
However, if health problems persist or get worse, mold may still be present and a second remediation should be completed.