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Monday, May 03, 2010

Mold problems and flooding: Lessons to be learned from Katrina

RE-POSTED re: Tennessee Flooding   UPDATE: 5/3/10

6/21/08: One of the places I have attended college over the years of advanced education is Iowa City. I know of some of the problems of flooding but certainly not to the extent of recent days.

I also have experienced mold problems because I lived in a house that had mold and the landlady refused to acknowledge it or address it. I also worked in a hospital that had the signs of black mold growing on the walls of the room where we had report and where the kids attended school. No remedial action was ever taken by the hospital's corporate owner.

Mold allergies are a very risky problem and they are real. They also take a very long time to resolve and may actually never resolve, however they may become minimal with effective and targeted approaches. This does not mean I am referring to prescription medication.

My hope is that this kind of help is available to anyone who has a severe health issue following this devastating event.
Health warning: Risk increases during cleanup
Jun 21, 2008, IOWA CITY — The cleanup and recovery after a flood can be more dangerous than the flooding, with greater risk for injury and infection as people deal with stagnant water, mold and air and water quality problems, University of Iowa public health experts said Friday.

As a flooding disaster like that in Eastern Iowa enters the more protracted "stage two" — cleanup and recovery — displaced residents and others must protect themselves as they deal with flooded homes and businesses where bacteria and mold will be rampant, UI officials said.

"From the public health standpoint, it's going to be a much more dangerous phase," Jim Merchant, dean of the UI College of Public Health, said. "The emphasis really needs to be on protection and effective cleanup."

Many communities will be dealing with cleanup for weeks and months to come because the past week's flooding was so widespread in Iowa, Merchant said.

One concern is the potential for traumatic injury as people clean and rebuild flood-ravaged homes and businesses. And long-term exposure to the flood-affected areas could lead to allergy problems or chronic lung disease if the proper protective equipment, such as a mask, isn't used any time exposure lasts more than a few minutes, especially in an enclosed space, UI officials said.

Allergies, wound infections and mosquito-borne diseases are all reasonable concerns, Merchant said.

Flood-damaged buildings that are not fixed adequately could lead to "sick building syndrome," where people battle continuous health problems, he said.

People working on flood cleanup should wear long shirts and pants, work boots and safety glasses and have respiratory protection. People with asthma or severe allergies should avoid exposure.

A possibly larger danger that may be overlooked is mental health trauma, said Kathleen Staley, assistant director of UI Counseling Service. Those most vulnerable to stress and depression are people with histories of trauma or mental health problems, people who experienced multiple or major losses in the flood and displaced people, she said.

The University Hygienic Laboratory is testing water for public entities and for private property owners with wells. Water quality has been maintained in most communities and it remains a priority, UI officials said.
Toxic mold spreading through soggy South
Storm-ravaged homeowners face health dangers from creeping fungus
The Associated Press
updated 5:18 p.m. PT, Tues., Sept. 27, 2005
NEW ORLEANS - Wearing goggles, gloves, galoshes and a mask, Veronica Randazzo lasted only 10 minutes inside her home in St. Bernard Parish. Her eyes burned, her mouth filled with a salty taste and she felt nauseous.

Her 26-year-old daughter, Alicia, also covered in gear, came out coughing.

“That mold,” she said. “It smells like death.”

Mold now forms an interior version of kudzu in the soggy South, posing health dangers that will make many homes tear-downs and will force schools and hospitals to do expensive repairs.

It’s a problem that any homeowner who has ever had a flooded basement or a leaky roof has faced. But the magnitude of this problem leaves many storm victims prey to unscrupulous or incompetent remediators. Home test kits for mold, for example, are worthless, experts say.

Don’t expect help from insurance companies, either. Most policies were revised in the last decade to exclude mold damage because of “sick building” lawsuits alleging illnesses. Although mold’s danger to those with asthma or allergies is real, there’s little or no science behind other claims, and a lot of hype.

“We went through a period when people were really irrational about the threat posed by the mere sight of mold in their homes,” said Nicholas Money, a mold expert from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and author of “Carpet Monsters and Killer Spores,” a book about mold.

“If you give me 10 minutes in anybody’s home, I’ll find mold growth somewhere,” he said.

'Potent allergens'
Mold is everywhere. Most people have no problem living with this ubiquitous fungus. It reproduces by making spores, which travel unseen through the air and grow on any moist surface, usually destroying it as the creeping crud grows.

Mold can’t be eliminated but can be controlled by limiting moisture, which is exactly what couldn’t be done after Hurricane Katrina. Standing water created ideal growth conditions and allowed mold to penetrate so deep that experts fear that even studs of many homes are saturated and unsalvageable.

In fact, New Orleans is where mold’s health risks were first recognized.

A Louisiana State University allergist, the late Dr. John Salvaggio, described at medical meetings in the 1970s what he called “New Orleans asthma,” an illness that filled hospital emergency rooms each fall with people who couldn’t breathe. He linked it to high levels of mold spores that appeared in the humid, late summer months.

“These are potent allergens,” but only for people who have mold allergies, said Dr. Jordan Fink, a Medical College of Wisconsin professor and past president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Molds produce irritants that can provoke coughing, and some make spores that contain toxins, which further irritate airways.

“The real pariah is this thing called Stachybotrys chartarum. This organism produces a greater variety of toxins and in greater concentrations than any other mold that’s been studied,” Money said.

Doctors at Cleveland’s Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital blamed it for a cluster of cases of pulmonary hemorrhage, or bleeding into the lungs, that killed several children in the 1990s, but the link was never proved.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no firm evidence linking mold to the lung problem, memory loss or other alleged woes beyond asthma and allergy. However, the sheer amount of it in the South could trigger problems for some people who haven’t had them before, medical experts said.

“The child who didn’t have a significant problem before may be in a much different scenario now,” said Dr. Michael Wasserman, a pediatrician at Ochsner Clinic in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie whose office and home were flooded and are now covered in mold. He plans to tear down his house.

Anything submerged a tear-down
Even dead mold can provoke asthma in susceptible people, meaning that places open to the public — restaurants, schools, businesses — must eliminate it.

This is most true for hospitals, where mold spores can cause deadly lung diseases in people with weak immune systems or organ transplants. Such concerns already led Charity Hospital’s owners to mothball it.

Tulane University Hospital and Clinic’s cleanup is expected to take months.

“The first floor’s got pretty much mold. It’s going to be pretty much a total loss,” said Ron Chatagnier, project coordinator for C&B Services, a Texas company hired by the hospital’s owner, HCA.

“It might be difficult or impossible to reopen some of these medical centers,” said Joe Cappiello, an official with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

“It’s not just the physical destruction that you see,” but ventilation systems and ductwork full of mold, ready “to seed the rest of the hospital with spores” if the heat or air conditioning were turned on, he said.

As for houses, “anything that’s been submerged probably will be a tear-down,” said Jeffrey May, a Boston-area building inspector, chemist and book author who has investigated thousands of buildings for mold problems.

Getting professional help
Clothes can be washed or dry cleaned, but most furniture is a loss. Ditto for carpeting, insulation, wallpaper and drywall, which no longer lives up to its name. Mattresses that didn’t get wet probably have mold if they were in a room that did.

“Anything with a cushion you can forget about,” May said.

The general advice is the same as when food is suspected of being spoiled: when in doubt, throw it out.

When is professional help needed?

“It’s simply a matter of extent. If you’ve got small areas of mold, just a few square feet, it’s something a homeowner can clean with 10 percent bleach,” said Anu Dixit, a fungus expert at Saint Louis University.

She studied mold after the Mississippi River floods in 1993 and 1994, and found cleaning measures often were ineffective, mainly because people started rebuilding too soon, before the surrounding area was completely dry.

In the New Orleans suburb of Lakeview, Toby Roesler found a water line 7 feet high on his home and mold growing in large black and white colonies from every wall and ceiling on the first floor.

Wearing goggles, a mask and rubber gloves, he sprayed down the stairwell with a bleach solution. A crew will arrive soon to gut the lower floor.

“I think it’s salvageable,” he said, but admitted, “It’s going to be some gross work to get it ready.”

Others won’t try.

Dionne Thiel, who lives next door to the Randazzo family, was only 7 when Hurricane Betsy raced through her neighborhood 40 years ago. Returning on Monday, after Hurricane Katrina, something was instantly familiar.

“The mold and the water,” she said. “It’s the exact same smell.”

Mold covered her dining room walls, snaked up door frames and even found its way into the candles she sold for a living. She and her husband salvaged his golf clubs but left the rest. They’ll move to Arizona.

“I would never want to live here again,” said her husband, Don Thiel. “It’s not going to be safe.”

© 2008 AP.

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