June 1st marks the beginning of the official hurricane season, and already the predictions for 2007 indicate that it’s going to be a busy year. You might be wondering how hurricanes managed to show up in an indoor air quality blog—but there is a very important issue linking the two topics. This issue stems from the aftermath of a hurricane or tropical storm, when you notice the first tiny patch of mold growing on your wall.
Hurricanes cause widespread flooding, which in turn spawns mold– and mold generates a myriad of air quality and health concerns. Upon returning to a mold contaminated house, you can smell the strong musty scent it causes, but keep in mind that the odor is accompanied by millions of spores.
Apparently hurricanes are named after the Mayan god “Huracan”, who was believed to hold power over strong winds and evil spirits. A typical hurricane life span is nine days long—but it is within the first 12 hours after making landfall that the storm is most dangerous. For an average hurricane season there are six to eight storms, though there are extreme exceptions to this number. The most prolific season on record was 2005 (15 hurricanes), which topped the 1969 record (12 hurricanes).
Though there are people who face extreme damage caused by hurricanes, there are many people who are also affected on a smaller scale. Their flooding may only bring a few inches of water in the basement, but any increase in moisture still be devastating because of the possibility of mold contamination.
Buildings that have been wet for periods greater that 48 hours, are usually going to have visible and extensive mold growth. There really only needs to be a small amount of additional moisture to increase the chances for mold contamination. Most mold grows in dark places, like under carpets or inside walls, which means that after light flooding, you may not have any visual indication that mold has moved in.
Molds do not derive their nutrients from the sun like plants do—instead molds create enzymes to break down the substance that they are attached to and embedded in. So in the process of growing on walls, tile grout or other materials, mold is breaking down and eating your house.
Mold spores can survive long periods of time, waiting for another damp spell in order to grow into a fuzzy colony.
If you’ve had a flood in the past, you had best prepare yourself for future floods, as they could cause your home to become re-infested.
Spores that are created by molds are spread through the air, planting new mold colonies. These spores often take a detour and end up in human lungs, causing allergy and asthma symptoms. For some individuals, inhaling spores can result in unusual or hard to treat infections– and certain spores, like those produced by particular species of aspergillus and stachybotrys, contain dangerous toxins.
For cases of severe flooding, where parts of your house have been wet for over two days, consult a professional mold clean-up service. These sorts of conditions can be enough for mold to grow in walls and insulation— dangerous mold like stachybotrys is found after heavy flooding like this.
For light clean-up (1 square foot of contaminated space or less) or preventative measures after small floods
- Use a wet/dry vacuum to rid areas of water—or run a dehumidifier
- Absorbent or porous materials such as carpets and tile grout may need to be removed—in some situations, you can have carpets cleaned, but make sure that they are completely dried afterwards.
- Using a mixture of water and bleach (1 cup bleach per gallon of water), wipe off all hard surfaces and dry them completely
- Do not chalk or paint moldy surfaces, as it is likely to peel
- Run a UV air purifier, such as one made by Air Oasis to keep mold spores from spreading new colonies of mold to other parts of the house.
If you have more than 2 square feet of mold growth, or have experienced heavy flooding, it is advisable to contact a mold clean-up specialist. Based on the specifics of your situation, they will recommend a method of clean-up.
What to Wear for Mold Clean-Up
- To avoid exposure to spores, you may want to wear an N-95 respirator (available at many hardware stores for $12-$25). Make sure that the respirator fits correctly!
- Wear long gloves—it is recommended that they come up to the middle of the fore arm. If you are using bleach or other strong cleaner detergent, you should select gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC.
- Wear goggles that do not have ventilation holes to avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes (what an unpleasant thought).