Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NJ Flooding 2011

From: The Mold Tsunami

Recent river cresting in New Jersey swiftly left homes and businesses submerged in water.   Over the weekend, as I drove around towns such as Little Falls, Wayne, Fairfield and Pompton Lakes I was knocked over after observing the sheer area affected by NJ’s swollen rivers.  Many buildings that were not flooded still had water banked up against the foundation, which poses a serious concern for home owners and building owners alike.  After events like this one, the phones in my office typically take a sudden turn into the haphazard, with scores of good questions about household mold in particular, many of which follow the same theme.

“My house flooded and I cleaned it out right away.  Do I need to worry about mold?”
“How can I prevent mold after a flood in my building?”
The best course of action that you can take following a flood is to remove the water from your home or building immediately, specifically within 24-48 hours if possible.  If the basement flooded and you had items stored inside cardboard boxes, you will want to remove everything from the boxes, clean, disinfect, and dry everything thoroughly, and store them in new, clean, dry containers.   Clean and dry items stored inside furniture or cabinets, too.  Remove and wash all linens, bedding, clothing, and floor mats.  Carpeting affected by water intrusion should be removed.  A thorough cleaning, disinfecting, and drying process is absolutely crucial in minimizing the opportunity for mold growth on every affected surface within your home or building.  Take advantage of warm dry days by opening up doors and windows to increase air flow.  Cheap box fans are helpful too.  These are just a few tips to help you prevent mold growth after a flood. 

 “Should I have my home tested for mold after a flood?”
Of course a mold test would help give you, your family members, or any other occupants of the building peace of mind following any water event such as a flood.  But when is a mold test actually needed or appropriate? 
  1. If following cleanup, there is no visible mold growth on any surfaces but you smell a musty odor, that could be an indication that mold may be forming in areas that are unseen, such as behind sheetrock.  This would be cause for a mold test.  A mold test would also provide details as to what species of mold are growing and if at elevated levels in the indoor air environment, indicating the possibility or absence of mold growth in non-visible areas.
  2. Following cleanup, if you begin to notice mold or mildew growth on building materials in the home or building that continue to reappear after cleaning.
  3. A large area of visible mold growth, meaning more than 10 sq. ft. in any contiguous area would prompt you to call in a professional.

“I don’t see any mold but I smell a musty odor.  How do I know if I have mold growing in my home or building?”
As stated above, a musty odor is generally a clue that mold may be forming in areas that you cannot see, such as behind sheetrock.  If a musty odor persists, it’s probably a good idea to contact a certified mold inspector to help determine the cause of the moldy odor and locate the potential source, so that proper cleaning techniques may be applied before this turns into an even bigger problem.  Tackled straight away, mold cleanup is always less expensive than when it is ignored for significant periods of time and left to grow.

“Will bleach kill mold growth? / Will bleach prevent mold growth?”
There is a lot of conflicting information circulating about bleach and whether bleach is effective in cleaning up mold.  So, does bleach kill mold?  Yes.. sometimes.  And no .. sometimes.  There are many variables that should be considered but mainly the object that is being cleaned and the species of mold that is growing on that object.  Objects that are non-porous, like hard plastic items or glazed ceramic sinks, can usually be disinfected with a solution of bleach and water and in most cases that will prevent mold growth.  However, in situations where you are cleaning porous objects such as wood, then it is very likely that the bleach will not penetrate the mold spore roots therefore this method may not be an effective course of action.  Also, certain mold species are resistant to bleach – although the bleach may partially destroy the organism, the fungi is still able to flourish.  
From Clorox’s website:  "Sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient in household bleach, helps to whiten, brighten and remove dirt and stains from surfaces and fabrics. EPA-registered, sodium hypochlorite-based bleach is effective in killing 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses and some types of mold."  Also found in the Cleaning & Laundry Advisor for Allergies, note that they specify using bleach to tackle mold on hard surfaces:  “Mold and mildew can be found on hard surfaces around the house. Spray the Clorox® Clean-Up® Cleaner with Bleach 4 to 6 inches from the surface until thoroughly wet, let stand for 5 minutes, and rinse or wipe clean to kill mildew. Use it to clean and disinfect bathtubs, counters, showers, sinks, refrigerators, glazed ceramic tile, and fiberglass.”
 “I am concerned about toxic mold / black mold / stachybotrys due to a flood in my home or building.”
The fact is that ALL molds have the ability to contribute towards health concerns in individuals, depending on the individual’s sensitivity to mold, age, and various health conditions.  So, what is “Toxic Mold” and how does it relate to “Toxic Black Mold”, “Black Mold”, and “Stachybotrys”?  Of the many thousands of species of mold in our environment, some have the ability to release mycotoxins throughout the indoor air environment.  Hence, the term, “Toxic Mold”. 

The terms “Black Mold”, “Toxic Black Mold”, and “Stachybotrys” all refer to a species of mold referred to as “Stachybotrys chartarum”.  Stachybotrys chartarum is black in color, slimy, and is also a notorious species of mold that has the ability to release mycotoxins into the air.  This would account for all of the different names for one single species of mold that we all know can create many ugly health related symptoms in individuals.
The above, however, does not necessarily mean that if you find mold in your home or building that happens to be black in color, that it is Stachybotrys chartarum.  The only way to definitively confirm the fungal species is through lab testing.  Whether you learn the mold in question affecting your property is confirmed to be Stachybotrys chartarum, or any other variety of mold, it still needs to be cleaned.  The methods of cleaning will be determined depending on the concentration of mold spores, the affected area, and the species of mold. 

“Can I clean up mold myself or do I really need to hire a professional?”
In this economy and the cost of living you may want to try and cut costs by cleaning mold yourself.  There are many resources around the web with guidelines for the do-it-yourselfer and in many cases you can tackle the project if you follow instructions carefully.  Do-it-yourself-mold-cleanup comes with one caveat.  Following removal of moldy building materials, and prior to rebuilding, it is critical to treat the underlying building materials with mold inhibiting products.  These products are only available to licensed professionals and therefore you may find yourself in a situation where that part of the project would need to be hired out to a professional.

I was saddened to see so many people affected by such an unfortunate incident.  My hope is that they find something positive in the rebuilding and renewal of their homes and their lives.

Pictures of the flood in NJ March 2011
source: nj.com

Wow.  This house just sold and is now flooded.
Cumberland County Courthouse Flood 2011
Route 46 was closed due to flooding
by Willowbrook Mall in Wayne NJ
Lots of people used boats and rafts to escape their flooded neighborhoods.
The irony.
A pool Supplies sign in the background of this flood picture!

-Steve Spinelli

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