Floods Carry a Hazardous Potential For Toxic Mold

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Release date: 
October 11, 1999
Release Number: 
1299-22

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- According to The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) mold growth in water-damaged homes is a potential hazard from flooding.

Many South Carolina residents who suffered flooding during Hurricane Floyd are returning to homes and businesses that are polluted by stagnant water. Besides the foul stench, these damage conditions present serious risks to the inhabitants' well-being. Mold is one of those health hazards.

Molds are simple microscopic organisms found virtually everywhere. Molds can be found on plants, foods, dry leaves, and other organic material. Mold spores are very tiny and lightweight, allowing them to travel through the air, and mold growths can often be seen in the form of discoloration, ranging from white to orange and from green to brown and black. When molds are present in large quantities, they can cause allergic reactions similar to those caused by plant pollen.

You should be concerned about mold in your home if the contamination is extensive. Exposure to high spore levels can cause the development of an allergy. Mold can also cause structural damage to your home. Similarly, when wood goes through a period of wetting, then drying, it can eventually warp and cause walls to crack or become structurally weak.

Mold could become a problem in your home if there is enough moisture available to allow mold to thrive and multiply. Dampness in basements, walls, carpets, and wood caused by flooding, provide an environment for mold to flourish. You can also be exposed to mold through skin contact and eating.

For some people, a relatively small number of mold spores can cause health problems. The basic rule is, if you can see or smell mold, take steps to eliminate the excess moisture, and to cleanup and remove the mold. It is important to quickly identify and correct any moisture sources before health problems develop. Infants, children, immune compromised patients, pregnant women, individuals with existing respiratory conditions (allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity and asthma), and the elderly appear to be at higher risk for adverse health effects from mold.

Allergic reactions may be the most common health problem of mold exposure. Typical symptoms reported, either alone or in combination, include:

  • Respiratory problems, such as wheezing and difficulty in breathing
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Eyes -- burning, watery, reddened, blurry vision, light sensitivity
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Sore throat
  • Nose and throat irritation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin irritation
  • Central nervous system problems, such as constant headaches, memory problems and mood changes
  • Aches and pains
  • Possible fever

You can tell if you have mold in your home if you can see it, or there is an earthy or musty odor. Allergic individuals may experience the symptoms listed above. Visible mold growth is found underneath materials where water has damaged surfaces, or behind walls. Look for discoloration and leaching from plaster.

Before beginning work on a flooded home, make sure the electricity is turned off. Unplug appliances and lamps before removing light bulbs and cover plates of wall switches and outlets that got wet. If local building inspection code allows you to disconnect wiring from switches and outlets, do so and throw it away. If your building inspector says that you cannot disconnect the wiring, pull the wires forward, away from the wall, and leave them connected.

  • Remove as much mud as possible. Once you have checked the water system for leaks, hose down the...
Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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