As North Carolinians begin to clean up debris and building interiors that may have been exposed to flooding or standing water caused by Hurricane Florence, state health officials are cautioning them to be mindful of the hazards associated with mold and other contaminants that may be present inside homes and other buildings.
Mold growth should be cleaned up as quickly as possible and any water problems, such as leaks in roofs, walls and plumbing, should be fixed to help control moisture inside a building.
To protect from health risks associated with mold, purchase N95 masks or respirators with a higher protection level at a local home supply store and wear one while in the building. Follow instructions to ensure a tight fit. Wear a long-sleeve shirt, long pants and gloves. If available, rubber boots and goggles should also be worn. Additionally, be sure to open windows and doors to provide fresh air during cleanup.
To remove mold from hard surfaces, use commercial mold cleaning products, soap and water or a bleach solution of no more than one cup of household laundry bleach in one gallon of water. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when using bleach or any other cleaning product. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners as it may produce toxic fumes.
Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces with hot water and laundry or dish detergent. Remove and discard affected items that cannot be washed and disinfected, like furniture. Throw out wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.
Remove all porous items that have been wet for more than 48 hours and that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried. These items can remain a source of mold growth and should be removed from the building. Porous, non-cleanable items include carpeting and carpet padding, upholstery, wallpaper, drywall, floor and ceiling tiles, insulation material, some clothing, leather, paper, wood and food.
After completing the cleanup, wash hands with soap and clean water and use fans to dry out the building. Position fans to blow air out doors or windows. Wash clothes that are worn for mold clean-up activities, or that are contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
People with breathing problems such as asthma, or those who have a weakened immune system, or are pregnant, should not enter buildings with mold damage. Children should not take part in disaster cleanup work. Individuals with a weakened immune system, such as people receiving treatment for cancer, those who have had an organ or stem cell transplant and people taking medicines that suppress the immune system, are more likely to get a serious illness from mold.
Those who are sensitive or allergic to mold may experience problems like asthma attacks, wheezing, stuffy nose and irritated eyes and skin. Anyone experiencing health problems after exposure to mold should seek treatment from a health care provider.
For more information about the health risks associated with mold and how to safely enter and clean up a property contaminated by mold, visit www.cdc.gov/disasters/mold/index.html. Or Sampson County Environmental Health, 910-592-4675.