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Published: October, 2018; Vol 15, Num 4

 

What to Do About Mold After a Hurricane

If your home has been damaged by a hurricane, chances are you’re facing a fair amount of cleanup, even if the damage is minor. One hazard you are all but guaranteed to encounter is mold.

If your home was flooded or exposed to even a minimal amount of water, you should assume mold is growing, even if you don’t see it or smell it. In wet, humid conditions, mold can develop in as little as 24 hours. Exposure to mold, which can occur through inhalation, ingestion or skin contact, can lead to asthma attacks, eye and skin irritation and other allergic reactions. If you have health issues such as a weakened immune system, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends consulting your physician before beginning the mold removal process to make sure it’s safe for you to clean up mold or be present during cleanup.

Stay Safe While Removing Mold

Are You Using a Portable Generator?

Portable generators emit carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that can kill in minutes. In the U.S alone, carbon monoxide exposures kill hundreds of people every year and sicken thousands more. If you are using a generator, follow these steps to keep your family safe.

  • Never use a generator inside your home or garage, even if doors and
    windows are open.
  • Only use generators outside, at least 20 feet away from your home.
  • Do not use a generator near where you are sleeping.

The key to mold control is moisture control. It’s important to get your home dried out as soon as possible. If electricity is safe to use or if you have a generator, use a wet vacuum to remove standing water and a dehumidifier to help remove moisture. If weather permits, you should also use fans and open all the windows. Removing water-damaged items, including furniture, carpet, appliances and drywall, will also help prevent further mold growth. The general rule of thumb is if the moldy area is less than 10 square feet (roughly a three foot by three foot section) you can handle the job yourself.

These recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will help reduce your exposure to mold:

  • Protect your mouth and nose from mold spores by wearing a filtering facepiece such as an N95 respirator (when removing water-damaged items) or a full-face respirator (if ripping out moldy drywall). Click here for more information on using these items.
  • Protect your skin. Wear long protective gloves (non-latex, vinyl, nitrile or rubber). Do not touch mold or moldy items with your bare hands. Wear disposable protective clothing that covers the entire body, including your head and feet.
  • Protect your eyes. Wear non-vented goggles that provide complete eye protection. Choose goggles designed to keep out dust and small particles. Safety glasses or goggles that have open vent holes will not protect against airborne mold spores and other small particles.
  • Throw away items that can’t be cleaned and dried. Throw away anything that was wet with flood water and can’t be cleaned and dried completely within 24 to 48 hours.
  • Follow these best practices. Do not eat, drink or smoke in active work areas. Avoid breathing dusts. After an area has been cleaned and is completely dry, vacuum the area with a HEPA vacuum.

Mold thrives in humid weather, so even after you’ve removed standing water and water-damaged items, you will need to take steps to keep mold from returning. Bleach is one of several cleaning products that can be used to prevent new mold from growing. However, exposure to bleach has its own health risks. It can burn the skin and irritate the eyes and lungs. Inhaling fumes from bleach can cause serious respiratory issues. These tips from the CDC can help ensure safe use of bleach:

  • Protect your mouth, nose, skin and eyes with an N95 mask, gloves and goggles.
  • Open windows and doors when using bleach to let fumes escape.
  • Never mix cleaning products such as bleach with ammonia, as it can create toxic vapors.
  • Never use bleach straight from the bottle. Use no more than one cup of bleach per one gallon of water when cleaning up mold.

When You Are Finished for the Day

Change your clothes and shower if possible before returning to your current living quarters. Pay special attention to your hair, scalp and nails. This will help protect you and your loved ones.

When Is It Safe To Move Back In?

There is no one correct answer. Every family has different circumstances that can affect this decision. The EPA recommends waiting until the house is completely dried out and there is no visible evidence of mold. If damage is minor, some families may be able to return sooner or even remain in the house while repairs are made. Health issues may require others to stay away until remediation has been completed and then hire a professional mold inspector to test the house for mold before returning.

If You Need Professional Assistance

Depending on the extent of the damage, you may need to hire a mold inspector or remediation specialist. Look for someone affiliated or certified by the National Environmental Health Association, the American Industrial Hygiene Association, the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification or the American Council for Accredited Certification.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]