10 tips for fighting mold after Hurricane Florence

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Experts offer advice on cleaning mold post-storm.

When a hurricane strikes, mold is the gift that keeps on giving.

Mold can start growing within 24 to 48 hours after homes or businesses flood, warns the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Worse, mold continues growing until someone stops it.

This is serious. Mold is a fungus that releases spores into the air. In large enough quantities, mold can cause breathing problems, burning or watery eyes, skin rashes, headaches and even more serious disorders such as memory loss. People with asthma and allergies are especially at risk, according to FEMA.

Mold needs to be cleared out, fast, after a disaster. Mold growth was one of the reasons several apartment complexes in New Hanover County were closed. Mold remediation in Pender County schools could cost more than $1 million, according to school officials.

In severe cases, homeowners may need to turn to professional help. Some mold cleanup, however, can be done on one’s own. Sarah Kirby, a professor at N.C. State University and a program leader with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, offers 10 steps toward getting it done.

Wear protective clothing as you work. Wear gloves, shoes and a filter mask or respirator mask.
Isolate moldy areas from the rest of the building and ventilate them. Open windows wide. Bring in fans.
Remove any moldy, porous materials. These will include ceiling tiles, wallboard, upholstery, fabrics and paper products. Soaked carpets may have to be professionally cleaned or discarded. Glass, metal and plastic can be cleaned and disinfected.
Clean and disinfect. Remove all traces of mold, as dead spores can float in the air and cause a health hazard. Use a solution of household bleach and water (1 cup of bleach per gallon of water.) Do not mix bleach and ammonia products, as the resulting fumes are poisonous.
Consider using a borate spray on wood surfaces exposed to flood water. Borate, a salt of boric acid, should be available from hardware stores. It kills mold and can halt rotting.
Keep ventilating mold-exposed areas.
Speed up the drying process. Use heating and air-conditioning systems. If possible, use dehumidifiers. If you have electricity at this point, close the windows.
Remain on mold alert. Watch for signs of recurring mold and treat promptly.
Don’t start restoring the house until everything is dry. Borrow a moisture meter calibrated to the type of wood you have. The moisture level should be no higher than 15 percent.
Consider flood-resistant materials as you build back. Use closed-cell spray foam insulation in walls, or rigid foam insulating sheathing that does not absorb water. Use solid wood or water-resistant composite materials. Elevate wiring and equipment. Consider removable, cleanable wainscoting or paneling. Use paperless drywall; that won’t provide a food source for mold. Use restorable flooring such as ceramic tile, solid wood or stained concrete.

Reporter Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-343-2208 or Ben.Steelman@StarNewsOnline.com.