PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- One of the worst effects of water damage comes in the form of mold. Following severe floods, mold may develop, causing serious health problems. Residents are urged to proceed with caution when cleaning up mold, said officials at the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Although mold is a naturally existing substance, it can be harmful to humans. When airborne mold spores are present in large quantities, they can cause allergic reactions, asthma episodes, infections, and other respiratory problems. Continued exposure to mold may result in nasal or sinus congestion, eye, nose, or throat irritations and adverse effects to the nervous system.
All materials are likely to become moldy if they are wet for long enough. Evaluate the condition of all items in a flooded area. Wood furniture and other porous materials can trap mold and may need to be thrown away. Harder materials such as glass, plastic and metal can be cleaned and disinfected. Carpeting can be a problem since drying it out does not remove mold spores. Carpets with heavy mold may have to be discarded.
The secret to preventing problems is cleaning, disinfecting and drying all wet surfaces as soon as possible.
Specialists offer the following suggestions to ensure safe, effective cleanup:
- Open windows for ventilation and wear rubber gloves for cleaning.
- Wash all areas and washable items that came in contact with floodwaters with a non-ammonia soap or detergent.
- Rinse thoroughly and disinfect the area with a dilute solution of 10 percent household bleach (one and one-quarter cups of bleach in one gallon of water). Never use bleach with ammonia.
- Dry the cleaned areas for several days. Raising the temperature and using fans or dehumidifiers will help.
After cleaning, you may still have mold odors. It is possible for mold to hide in walls or behind wall coverings. It is important to find all mold sources and properly clean them.
Materials that cannot be cleaned, such as drywall, fiberglass and cellulose insulation, should be removed and discarded. Then clean the wall studs, where wallboard has been removed, and allow the area to dry completely.
Drying your home could take several weeks. While it may seem that your house is safe from mold, your health may still be at risk because of the lingering effects of mold. When water damage infiltrates a structure, the long lasting effects can be detrimental to the composition of the building. If you believe that your health has been affected by exposure to mold, you should contact your physician and also have your house checked for mold.
If you have further questions concerning mold and your health, you may call the FEMA helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY1-800-462-7585 for the speech or hearing impaired. You can also call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 1-800-CDC-INFO.
FEMA coordinates the federal government's role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.