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Sandy Mold Remediation

A 15' cargo van with a “giant sign on the side of the cargo van that said that we had pumps”. Image by Respond & Rebuild.
Mold remediation. Image by Respond & Rebuild

Mold remediation work. Image taken by an organization that does mold remediation work post-Sandy.

This past Sunday, October 13th, was International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR), a day that not only celebrates how people and communities are reducing their risk to disasters and raising awareness for Disaster Risk Reduction, but also encourages every citizen and government to take part in building more disaster resilient communities and nations.  As New Yorkers reflect on the approaching one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy and recall the many residents that are still recovering from the storm, we are also thinking of how to build more disaster resilient communities and nations.

This year’s IDDR theme, “Living with Disability and Disasters”, focused on some one-billion people around the world living with some form of disability, representing one-fifth of the world’ population who are often overlooked. In that spirit, this blog post focuses on mold remediation. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with a first responder, who later became a mold remediator, to learn about the specifics and the importance of mold remediation.

What at first began as simply providing water pumps and generators to locals and homeowners and helping homeowners pump out water from their homes for the interviewee, eventually turned into something bigger. And although the interviewee had a full time job before and during the storm, they never went back to it after and wounded up doing disaster relief work full-time. As a result of these and other efforts, an organization was formed.

The organization immediately realized that a lot of homes in disaster zones were not having the proper site safety checks, and so the group went into homes to look for serious hazardous damages, from oil spills to natural gas fumes. During this process, the organization recognized the acute lack of awareness of and knowledge about the mold that was growing in homes.

We noticed that nobody knew what to do about mold and that since like this area has really been spared a lot of extreme weather in the recent past.  People just didn’t really – people didn’t know what it was going to be like.  We knew that mold was going to grow.  We knew a little bit, we knew that we couldn’t use bleach to get rid of it.And so, [mold] became our focus right away just because that’s actually a really serious public health issue and, you know, can really degrade the structural integrity of a home.

Mold remediation is something that people often shrug off because it doesn’t seem like an acute danger when they are rebuilding previously flooded homes. The most common remedy that people use is bleach, but that is actually not an effective or sustainable solution. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, biocides such as chorine bleach are substances that can destroy living organisms but it is not recommended as routine practice because even by sterilizing the affected area, background level of mold spores still remains. [1]

Mold growing inside a flood damaged New Jersey home. Source: nj.com

Mold growing inside a flood damaged New Jersey home. Source: nj.com

There have been many organizations post-Sandy doing “mold suppression,” but the interviewee noted that there is actually no such thing as “mold suppression” and in actuality those groups were usually spraying bleach, which does more harm than good by giving homeowners a false sense of relief and security.

Mold grows in moist conditions and often times grows deep within infrastructure. Bleaching only offers a temporary and surface solution because while molds seemingly have gone away, they are still growing internally within the walls. In addition to bleach, there are other over-the-counter mold remediation products offered, but those are also potentially harmful because most of these products contains ammonia and when ammonia is mixed with bleach, it releases dangerous toxic fumes. [2][3]

To ensure the proper and full removal of mold and spores from homes and other types of buildings, there are actually other various crucial steps and procedures that, depending on the type of building and severity of the problem,  one can and should take instead of just using bleach and other ammonia products.

Some very brief and basic steps include, but are not limited to:

  1. Eliminate or limit water or moisture sources.
  2. Decontaminate or remove damaged materials, as appropriate.
  3. Dry any wet materials by opening doors and windows and using fans or dehumidifiers to dry out the building.
  4. Scrub affected areas to remove visible mold and let it settle after for at least 30 minutes. Remove all porous items that have been wet for greater than 48 hours and that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried.
  5. Vacuum all surfaces from top to bottom.
  6. Wiping and disinfecting areas by using warm water mixed with a mild dish detergent, and damped cloth rags.
Image by Respond & Rebuild.

Mold remediation protective wear. Image taken by an organization that does mold remediation work.

Attached here is a brief mold remediation guide from US Environmental Protection Agency. And  here is another brief guide for mold remediation from Respond & Rebuild, an organization that does mold remediation and Sandy relief work.

It is easy to forget the small yet critical aspects of recovery, like mold remediation. Mold is one of several invisible, chronic, accumulative effects of disasters that stretch the crisis beyond the storm event and its immediate aftermath. One year after Hurricane Sandy, mold has become  an even more apparent and increasing problem. Schools and buildings that have had mold remediation work done has recently found mold resurfacing. [4] There has also been an increasing number of mold-related respiratory diseases. As local governments begin to offer mold remediation assistance and along with varying organizations begin and continue to offer mold remediation courses, it is essential that we need to build more mold awareness for a better and more resilient storm recovery.

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[1] and [2] A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home. http://www.epa.gov/iedmold1/hiddenmold.html

[3] Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/epi/epi-mold-guidelines.pdf

[4] Sandy left NJ shore with massive mold problem. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/09/sandy-left-new-jersey-shore-with-mold-problem/2785031/

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