If Hurricane Ian itself wasn’t enough, residents of Southwest Florida are dealing with mold growing in homes and businesses that have suffered water damage. With this mold comes health risks.
Florida Department of Health – Lee County officials are urging the public to take precautionary measures to avoid indoor air quality issues that may arise in storm-damaged homes and buildings. They said moisture from leaks or floods can promote mold growth.
So how do you know if there is mold in your home or building?
FDOH-Lee officials said:
• Look for areas where you notice mold odors, if you smell earthy or musty you may have a mold problem.
• Indoor mold growth can usually be seen or smelled.
• Look for visible mold as it may appear cottony, velvety, rough or leathery and have different colors such as white, gray, brown, black, yellow or green.
• Mold often appears as spots or fuzzy growths on furniture or building materials, such as walls, ceilings, or anything made of wood or paper.
• Look for signs of dampness or water damage, such as water leaks, standing water, water spots and condensation. Check around air handlers, such as air conditioners and furnaces, for standing water.
As for those who might be most affected by mold, FHOD-Lee officials said: “Infants, young children, older adults, people with chronic respiratory conditions and people with weakened immune systems can be affected earlier and more severely by mold in the home. If you have any concerns, you should see a health care provider if you think your health has been affected by indoor mold.
Health officials have said that there are four types of health problems linked to mold exposure: allergic diseases, irritant effects, infections and toxic effects.
For people sensitive to mold, symptoms such as nasal and sinus irritation or congestion, dry cough, wheezing, rash or burning, or watery or red eyes may occur. Officials said people with severe mold allergies can have more severe reactions, such as hay fever-like symptoms.
“People with weakened immune systems may be more susceptible to infections caused by certain molds, viruses and bacteria. Molds can also trigger asthma attacks or cause asthma to develop. Headaches, memory problems, mood swings, nosebleeds, and body aches are sometimes reported in mold complaints. The long-term presence of indoor mold can eventually become a problem. Please note that allergic reactions to mold are common and may be immediate or delayed.
Health officials said mold should be cleaned up as soon as it appears. Those most susceptible to mold should not help clean up. Officials said not to use ozone generators. Protective gloves and safety glasses should be worn during cleanup. Small areas of mold should be cleaned using detergent/soapy water or a commercial mold or mildew cleaner. The cleaned area should be completely dried.
“Throw away sponges or rags used to clean up mold,” officials said. “If the mold comes back quickly or spreads, it could mean you have an underlying problem, like a water leak.”
To protect against the health risks associated with mold, FDOH-Lee has provided the following tips:
• Remove standing water from your home or office within 24 hours, paying attention to other hazards such as electricity, physical damage to home or office, and animals in water or home.
• Dry or remove damp building materials and carpets within 24 hours.
• If electricity is available, use an air conditioner or dehumidifiers to reduce indoor humidity levels. If you use a portable generator to power air conditioners, dehumidifiers, or other equipment, appliances, or tools, keep portable generators at least 20 feet from your and your neighbor’s home. All homes must have working carbon monoxide alarms installed at all times.
• If mold has already developed, remove or thoroughly clean the moldy material.
• Use at least an N-95 respirator (or better protection if possible), gloves and goggles when cleaning or removing mold. People with mold allergies, asthma, or weakened immune systems should not clean or remove moldy materials.
• When using cleaners, be sure to read and follow label directions carefully and open windows and doors to provide plenty of fresh air. Do not mix bleach with ammonia-based cleaners or acids as a dangerous gas will be formed.
Officials said if there is a lot of mold in your home, check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) booklet. “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings.” Although written about schools and commercial buildings, this document deals with mold in other types of buildings. If moldy material is not easy to clean, such as drywall, carpet padding, and insulation, it may need to be removed and replaced.
When determining who should do the cleanup job, health officials said if the moldy area is smaller than 10 square feet, or less than a 3ft by 3ft patch, the cleanup can be done. yourself. However, if there has been significant water damage and/or mold growth covering more than 10 square feet, consult the EPA booklet.
If an individual chooses to hire a contractor, officials said to consider someone licensed by the state of Florida.
The license of a mold appraiser or mold remediator can be verified using the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation web page (myfloridalicense.com). Officials recommended people check references and have the contractor follow current EPA recommendations and guidelines from the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) or other professional or government organizations.
For more information, call the DOH-Lee Office of Environmental Health at 239-690-2100 or the Florida Department of Health (DOH) Radon and Indoor Air Program at 800-543-8279.
The program can provide guidance and advice on prevention, mold problem identification, investigation techniques, clean-up methods, disaster planning and messaging, health effects, including potential risks of mold exposure, and refer affected individuals to appropriate local resources.
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