Dealing with Mold in a Home After a Hurricane
Whether your home was filled with water or you just had a small leak in your ceiling, any lingering moisture can allow mold to grow. Exposure to mold can be a serious health issue after a major rain event like Hurricane Florence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that you should assume mold is present if an indoor area was flooded or wet for more than 24-48 hours.
Before re-occupying a home, you should ensure that any leaks or other moisture problems have been repaired, everything is completely dry, and any mold has been cleaned properly. The health risks associated with mold exposure vary by person, but mold can cause serious respiratory issues even for those who are not allergic to it. Some molds can even release toxins.
Children, those with compromised immune systems, and anyone with asthma or lung conditions may be more seriously affected by the presence of mold. Those at a higher risk should avoid personally cleaning areas where mold is present. It is strongly advised that children not stay in buildings that are being repaired due to flood damage.
What is mold?
Mold is a natural substance found in nature that generally breaks down organic material. It also produces spores that float through the air. They are invisible to the naked eye and grow when they land on wet surfaces.
How do I know if my home has mold?
Generally, a home with mold will have a “musty” odor. Mold growth may also occur in areas behind wallpaper, within pillows, inside toys, behind cupboards, within books, or other more hidden areas. If you are concerned about mold growing in areas you cannot see, have your home tested for mold by a professional.
Why is mold a serious health hazard?
Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases potentially toxic substances. When these allergens, irritants, or toxins are inhaled or touched, a reaction can occur. Some people are more sensitive to the substances mold produces.
Those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or other lung diseases may struggle to breathe in the presence of mold.
What are the symptoms of mold-related illnesses?
The main symptoms of mold exposure are similar to other allergies such as hay fever. Mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, throat, and lungs and cause:
- Throat Irritation
- Runny Nose
- Sinus Drainage
- Red/Itching/Watery Eyes
- Skin Rash
- Asthma attacks
What security precautions should I take while cleaning mold?
You should wear an N-95 respirator face mask, and long gloves. The N-95 mask can be purchased at most home improvement stores. Goggles should be worn to prevent mold spores from getting in your eyes. You are also advised to wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and work boots.
How do I get rid of mold?
Remove any porous material, such as carpeting, clothing, stuffed animals, or wall board, that was exposed to moisture.
First, clean the mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water and dry completely. There are several solutions that can be used to remove mold. When using any cleaning products, make sure to sufficiently vent work areas.
A solution of 50% clear ammonia and 50% water is also an effective mold killer. The solution should be sprayed onto moldy areas and left for a few hours before wiping and rinsing. Many mold removal products contain ammonia so it is important to read labels to avoid mixing ammonia with bleach which creates toxic fumes.
Borax is a more effective mold killer than bleach. Borax is generally available in supermarkets in the laundry section. To use borax to clean mold, mix 1 cup of borax per 1 gallon of water. Using a brush, scrub the area with the borax-water solution. Wipe up any moisture or debris to prevent them from spreading into the air upon drying. Borax does not emit dangerous fumes and has a lower toxicity than bleach.
Vinegar is a good option for natural mold removal because it is non-toxic and does not emit any dangerous fumes. Do not add water to the vinegar when using it to kill mold. Spray distilled white vinegar directly onto the affected area and allow it to sit for an hour. Then, wipe the area clean and let the surface dry. You may want to spray areas you cleaned every few days with vinegar to ensure the mold does not return.
Baking soda is also a safe and effective mold removal tool. It can be paired with vinegar to help deodorize the smell of mold and absorb moisture to keep mold abated after cleaning. Combine 2 tablespoons baking soda with 2 cups of water in a spray bottle. Shake well. Spray the affected area, scrub, and then wipe away mold debris or remaining cleaning solution.
Hydrogen peroxide is an effective alternative to using bleach to clean mold and is also safer to use. It is generally available at a 3% concentration. To clean mold using hydrogen peroxide, spray it directly, without diluting with water, onto the moldy areas. Allow it to sit on the surface for 10 minutes, scrub the area, and then wipe the surface down afterwards. Hydrogen peroxide can be safely combined with vinegar and used to kill mold.
Bleach is commonly used for cleaning mold. A solution using 1 cup of bleach per every 1 gallon of water will be effective from removing mold from hard surfaces. Bleach gives off harsh fumes and produces toxic gas if mixed with ammonia. Bleach leaves behind a residue that can be toxic to children or pets so make sure to wash it off if either can access the area after cleaning. Bleach that is left on surfaces will inhibit future mold growth. Never mix bleach with other cleaning products, especially ammonia.
Do not paint or caulk over mold. If you paint over a moldy surface, it is likely to peel.
If the area that needs to be cleaned is more than 10 square feet, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends hiring professionals to tackle the job.
Once all the mold and porous surfaces exposed to it have been removed, all hard surfaces have been disinfected and allowed to dry completely, you should vacuum the entire room with a HEPA filtered vacuum cleaner. This will help remove any residual spores from the room. If spores remain, they can once again form mold in the presence of moisture.
Keep in mind that standing water and wet materials can serve as a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria as well. The long-term implications of living in a home without proper moisture remediation following a storm like Hurricane Florence can be severe.
Dealing with Mold in Schools, Daycares, or Workplaces After a Hurricane
What should I do if I suspect my child has a mold-exposure-related illness?
The New Hanover County Health Department will assess dwellings where a child has a suspected mold related health condition as documented in a signed doctor’s statement. Contact them at 910.798.6667.
What can I do if I believe there is mold in my workplace?
Notify your employer and consult your family doctor to learn how to protect yourself until the mold can be removed.
Next, inform your workplace that you suspect or have seen the presence of mold in the building where you work and recommend to them to bring in a professional to assess the building.
At this time, there is no standard or regulation regarding mold in the workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers must provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm. However, there is no set limit for what is an unacceptable level of mold. However, business owners concerned about the cost of professional mold remediation can contact the OSHA Consultation Project Office for a free consultation which may help them evaluate the issue and prevent hazardous conditions, including mold, in the workplace.
If your employer fails to remove the mold, your local OSHA Regional and Area Offices may be able to help.
Who can help me if there is mold in my rental home that is not being addressed by my landlord?
Like the workplace, there is no federal law or standard for an “acceptable” amount of mold in a rental property. However, North Carolina law does require landlords to fix excessive standing water, sewage, or flooding problems that contribute to mold.
If the mold is determined to make the property uninhabitable, this may be considered a breach of contract by the landlord. However, you must properly notify your landlord of the mold issue and give them time to remedy it.
For more health-related content from New Hanover Regional Medical Center, visit https://www.nhrmc.org/blog