2010-05-06 / News

After the flood comes mold

Help is still available to island homeowners
By Eileen M. Daly

The unrelenting rain and devastating floods have passed, clean up is well underway throughout the state, and the worst is over.

Or is it?

According to Federal Emergency Management Agency External Affairs Agent Jack Heesch, the most destructive effects of the recent flooding may be just beginning.

“The issue of mold always comes up five to seven weeks after the flooding and that’s what we are finding here,” he said. “And it’s got to get cleaned up because it’s not going to go away. It will only get worse.”

Mold infestations can be a serious health problem and may also cause structural damage to homes, Heesch said.

To add to the problem, mold can also be difficult to detect.

“Often, people don’t see it. It’s probably going to start in the basement and people don’t always get down there a lot. And, even though mold has a smell, you can get used to it,” Heesch said. “Especially if you don’t leave the house a lot.”

Different homes will also need different types of mold remediation, Heesch said.

“An empty basement with a cement floor will be a lot easier to clean than a carpeted room with sheet rock,” he said.

A FEMA news release regarding mold mitigation outlines these differences. According to the release, “Removing some flood contaminated materials and household goods, and thoroughly cleaning or drying out others, are essential steps to combat mold. Flood waters compromise household fixtures in different ways. Porous materials are nearly impossible to clean. Flood-soaked carpets, carpet pads, linoleum, fabric-covered furniture, wet insulation and ceiling tiles should be discarded. There is no way to clean them. For heirloom rugs and furniture, contact a professional cleaner.”

Appliances, heating and airconditioning filters are another problem, Heesch said.

“Mold produces microscopic spores that can come up through the furnace and be spread throughout the house,” he said.

FEMA recommends discarding refrigerators, freezers, cooking stoves, dishwashers, hot water heaters, washing machines and driers because these appliances contain insulation, which may harbor mold spores without visible evidence. FEMA also recommends changing heating and air conditioning filters and having the systems’ ductwork cleaned by a professional so that mold spores do not circulate.

The health damage caused by microscopic mold spores being disbursed throughout homes and businesses can be severe, but may go unrecognized initially, Heesch said.

“A lot of times, when I talk with people about mold, they will say, ‘You know, my allergies have been acting up,’ or they will say, ‘My sinuses have really been bothering me,’ but they hadn’t realized it was related to the mold,” he said.

Hidden damage from mold can also complicate the clean-up process, Heesch said.

For example, FEMA recommends removing damaged wallboard. But many people don’t realize that water can rise higher than the visible water line on wallboard, so FEMA recommends removing damaged wallboard at least two feet above the water line, Heesch said.

If your home or business has been damaged by mold, Heesch and FEMA want you to know that although it is a difficult condition to rectify, it is not impossible and you are not alone.

“Go to a disaster recovery center and talk to one of our mitigation specialists,” Heesch said. These mitigation specialists can assist with specific clean-up procedures and can also provide information about available assistance, he said.

“Even if inspectors have been out previously, there may be other assistance available, up to and including a re-inspection,” Heesch said.

It is best to locate available assistance through FEMA and its mitigation specialists in order to avoid being scammed by unethical individuals or companies looking to capitalize on the misfortune of others, Heesch said.

Anyone planning to hire a contractor to specifically clean up mold ought to exercise extreme caution, Heesch added. In some cases, businesses claiming to be mold experts have actually made the problem worse, he said.

In order to access FEMA assistance, Heesch recommends first registering with the agency and then visiting a disaster recovery center (DRC). To register for assistance with FEMA, call (800) 621-3362 or TTY (800) 462- 7585 for the hearing or speechimpaired.

Registration can also be completed online at www.fema.gov, where you’ll also find a complete statewide listing of DRCs, along with guidelines for clean up and avoiding scams.

Return to top