Special care needed for successful post-flood mold cleanup

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Torrential rains and resulting flood damage in April have left a path of destruction for homeowners across Kentucky. Sunny skies and warm temperatures will help clean-up efforts, but with high-moisture content in the air, conditions are ripe for the growth of mold and fungi in waterlogged buildings.

Mold is a type of fungi that begins to grow on materials that stay wet longer than two or three days. It produces tiny cells called spores that float and spread easily through the air. Live spores act like seeds to form new colonies when they find the right conditions. These include moisture, nutrients and a suitable place to grow with moisture being the key factor. 

Some people are very sensitive to mold, but long-term or heavy exposure to it is unhealthy for anyone. Mold can trigger allergic reactions, asthma attacks and also can compromise a person’s ability to resist illness. Young children and the elderly are most vulnerable. 

Special care is needed to safely and effectively remove mold from a flood-damaged building. Here are suggestions to help you safely manage the removal of mold from your home. 

1. Consider the size of the mold problem. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, if the area is less than 10 square feet (less than roughly a 3 feet-by-3 feet patch), in most cases, it can be handled by the homeowner.

2.  Wear protective gear including gloves, goggles and an N95 respirator. Depending on the severity and extent of the mold, you may need to consider adding a VOC filter since mold gives off gases known as microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs). An N95 respirator will filter fungal particulate matter, but it will not filter gases.  

3. Isolate the area you are working in by closing doors and ventilate by opening a window, if possible. Disturbing mold colonies during cleanup can cause a huge release of spores into the air. Take necessary steps to insure that mold spores are not able to spread. Cover air vents and turn off central air conditioning 

4. Remove and dispose of moldy, porous materials that have been contaminated. These may include carpeting, upholstery, fabrics and mattresses. Insulation can wick up moisture and stay wet for a long time. Cut wall covering above the water line and remove insulation to prevent the growth of mold and fungi inside walls. Remove vinyl wallpaper and flooring, ceiling tiles, gypsum wallboard and processed wood products that have retained moisture. 

5. Clean and disinfect. You can effectively clean surface mold from nonporous materials such as hard plastic, concrete, glass and metal. Clean to remove the mold, not just kill it, because dead spores can still cause health problems. After cleaning you may choose to disinfect. In cases where sewage contamination has occurred, disinfection is a must. Follow label directions for the disinfecting product and wear rubber gloves.
6. Dry all wet materials as quickly as possible by running fans and a dehumidifier. Air out the building by using window fans to pull mold spores outdoors. 

7. Remain on the lookout for mold recurrences. If it returns, repeat cleaning and use speed drying equipment. Consider having vents professionally cleaned and sanitized to ensure spores don’t spread. 

8. Do not attempt restoration until all materials have dried completely.

Currently, there are no government licensing programs in Kentucky for mold remediation. If you choose to hire a contractor to remove mold, seek out a licensed contractor with special training and equipment such as HEPA vacuums and dehumidifiers. Ask about cost, the methods to be used, the steps to be taken and references. Request details in writing.

For more information about how to manage recovery and cleanup from flood damage, contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service. 

Source: Thessalenuere H. Bernard, extension specialist, Special Projects.

Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.