HARRISBURG, Pa. – As Pennsylvanians return to their water-damaged homes, they come face to face with a new threat—mold.
Mold can cause serious, long-term health problems. Recovery specialists urge disaster survivors to protect themselves by treating or discarding mold- and mildew-infected items.
The following individuals are at higher risk for adverse health effects from molds:
- Infants, children and the elderly.
- Immune compromised individuals (people with HIV infection, liver disease, in chemotherapy, etc).
- Pregnant women.
- Individuals with existing respiratory conditions such as allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, and asthma.
People with these conditions should consult a physician if they are experiencing health problems.
Typical symptoms reported from mold exposure include respiratory problems (such as wheezing and asthma attacks), burning or watery eyes, nose or throat irritations, skin irritations such as rashes or hives, and nervous system disorders such as headaches, memory loss and mood changes.
“Taking the time to clean thoroughly is the most important step a homeowner can take to prevent illnesses from mold,” said Commonwealth Coordinating Officer John Forr.
Mold and mildew start growing within 24 hours after a flood, and can lurk throughout a home, from the attic to the basement and crawl spaces. The best defense is to thoroughly clean, disinfect, and dry the affected areas.
Porous materials—things that absorb water—can trap mold forever. Moldy paper, rags, wallboard, and rotten wood should be discarded. Survivors also may need to throw out moldy carpeting or upholstered furniture.
"It can be hard to get rid of a favorite armchair, your child's teddy bear or any other treasures that have developed mold," said Federal Coordinating Officer Thomas J. McCool. "To safeguard the well-being of your loved ones, though, a top-to-bottom home cleanup is your best defense."
"Remember, when in doubt, throw it out," Forr said.
Protect yourself during cleanup. Wear gloves and a filter mask. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends using an N-95 respirator which is available at hardware and home improvement stores. Be sure the area is well ventilated.
Clean wet places immediately using these suggestions:
- Mold cannot grow without moisture. Eliminate the source.
- Discard porous materials that already have mold growth (i.e. carpets, drywall, ceiling tiles).
- Thoroughly clean non-porous materials (glass, ceramic, metal and plastic), with a solution of household bleach, soap or detergent, and water. Use no more than 1 ½ cups of bleach per gallon of water.
- Wash down walls, floors and other mold contaminated areas. When using bleach remember:
- Wear rubber gloves and other protective clothing including goggles and air filter masks.
- Make sure the area is well ventilated.
- WARNING: Never mix chlorine liquids (bleach) and ammonia.
- Remove damaged wallboard at least two feet above the water line.
- Change heating and air conditioning filters. Have ductwork inspected by a professional.
- Monitor the area for new mold growth and signs of moisture.
For large problems, or if you are allergic to mold, have a professional do the work. Disturbing mold while cleaning it can cause exposure.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone avoid unnecessary exposure to mold, especially anyone at high risk for infection. For more information on mold or mold cleanup visit their website at www.cdc.gov/mold/cleanup.htm.