ALABAMA A&M and AUBURN UNIVERSITIES
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As South Alabama residents begin the painful task of restoring flood-damaged homes, health authorities warn they may be at greater risk of exposure to toxic molds.
"When moisture levels rise above 50-percent relative humidity, people can count on larger numbers of molds and other biological contaminants," says Dr. Jesse LaPrade, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System environmental specialist. "And the high-humidity conditions that follow flooding provide ideal conditions for molds."
Although most of these molds are harmless, a few may post health risks. Fortunately for homeowners, the most dangerous mold, Stachybotris Atra, which has been linked with the deaths of several infants in the Midwest, never has been found in Alabama.
Experts have found several strains of Aspergillus molds, and two of these strains, Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, produce afflotoxin, one of the most potent carcinogens known to science.
"Airborne spores from these molds may be found in homes with high moisture content," LaPrade says. "But although the molds may pose a threat to older people with weakened immune systems, for most people they're just a nuisance, mainly because of their odor."
Removing the molds is easy. "The least expensive method is to use a 10-percent chlorine bleach solution on infected areas," LaPrade says. "Using a hand-held sprayer, apply a fine mist and then wipe it off with a towel."
While the interior of the home is still undergoing restoration, LaPrade recommends installing exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms that are vented to the outdoors. Fans help eliminate moisture buildup and are effective in reducing molds that form as a result of hot water from showers and dishwashers.
As a further precaution, LaPrade recommends equipping basements with dehumidifiers. When temperature and humidity increase in the summertime, basements often have problems with mold. When humidity exceeds 50 percent, turn on the dehumidifier and let it runs two or three days. It will and pump most of the water from the air, resulting in about 40 to 45 percent humidity.
It's also a good idea to ventilate the attic and crawlspaces in order to prevent moisture buildup, LaPrade says.
In early April, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised pediatricians in flooded areas to be on the lookout for signs of exposure to Stachybotris Atra among infants being treated for respiratory illnesses. Pediatricians were told to ask about mold and moisture in the home while treating infants for respiratory bleeding.
Respiratory bleeding is a sign of exposure to the mold,which has been linked to the deaths of two dozen infants since 1994, half of which occurred in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.