Mold a growing problem

Source: The News-Item, Shamokin, PA, February 13, 2012
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com

The continued outbreak of mold inside homes flooded last September is proving of great concern in Shamokin and Coal Township, and a relief agency is calling on volunteers to help remove it.

Representatives of Central Susquehanna Opportunities Inc. have assessed or cleaned more than 100 area homes for mold in the wake of the historic flooding. About 25 homes were revisited up to three times each for cleaning after recurring outbreaks, said Gale Zalar, community action director for the Shamokin non-profit.

Some of the homes’ residents — a majority of whom were elderly or disabled — have developed respiratory problems as a result of the mold, she said.

“If you have drywall or paneling or wood, it has to be removed,” Zalar said of materials that may have sustained flood damage.

Dr. David Fisk, practitioner of thoracic medicine at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, said mold thrives on moisture. That’s why it’s important to rid a home of any materials that remain wet or damp, Fisk said, adding insulation to the list of things Zalar referenced.

He also highly recommended the use of dehumidifiers to keep a home dry.

A mixture of Clorox and water isn’t cutting it when removing the mold. And those using Clorox straight up are doing more harm than good, Zalar said, saying it simply puts mold in a dormant stage before it again returns.

However, she said Namtec Mold Remover has proven effective in ridding mold from homes for good and is available at Jones Hardware.

A major risk for flood victims is location. Neighborhoods of row homes where there are apathetic residents or delinquent vacancies — properties with basements that were never pumped out — run the risk of being overrun by mold, Fisk said.

He compared it to the smell of cigarette smoke spreading from one home to another.

“If one guy’s smoking in his house, you can smell it in yours,” he said. “Once the mold gets in the basement, it gets to the first floor.”

Health effects

The two common problems of mold are that it’s an irritant and can cause allergic reactions.

“Certain molds are so irritating it makes us wheeze,” Fisk said.

Exposure over weeks and months can cause inflammation of the lungs — an uncommon side effect but a possibility.

Molds come in many colors, including white, but black mold seems the biggest fear. Black mold is more a media moniker than an actual designation, according to Environmental Protection Agency, but generally refers to mold that may produce mycotoxins or a specific mold like Stachybotrys chartarum.

The health affects from mycotoxins are largely unknown.

“Some strains of Stachybotrys atra can produce one or more potent toxins. In addition, preliminary reports from an investigation of an outbreak of pulmonary hemorrhage in infants suggested an association between pulmonary hemorrhage and exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum,” according to the EPA website.

In 23 years in practice, Fisk said he hadn’t seen many cases of black mold. But those affected by it would likely become sick with symptoms associated with fever along with persistent coughing and changes of the lung.

Help needed

CSO continues to perform door-to-door checks in flood-stricken areas to gauge residents’ continued needs. One man’s wheelchair lift shorted in the flood and had been inoperable. Some residents remained without proper heating sources. Others were without furniture.

Local volunteers as well as those from United Methodist Committee on Relief and employees of Lenape Solar, Sunbury, continue to assist in cleaning and performing minor remodel work at affected homes.

More help is badly needed, Zalar said, calling on volunteers to clean. She’s also hoping people with backgrounds in trades such as carpentry, plumbing, electric and masonry will step up to volunteer.

In the months after Tropical Storm Lee passed through the Northeast, CSO was named by the county commissioners as the lead agency in handling flood relief.

Zalar said CSO is now looking to form a multi-agency group to organize relief efforts, including representatives from county agencies, hospitals, churches and code enforcement, towards generating more effective results.

“I think what we’re all doing right now is maybe pockets,” she said, “but we need to pull it together.”

Flood victims in need of assistance as well as people wishing to volunteer should contact CSO at 644-6575 or visit www.censop.com. More information on mold can be found on the EPA website at www.epa.gov/mold/.

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