- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Local health officials are warning residents to be on the lookout for mold and mildew in homes that were flooded by this week’s torrential rains.

Officials said exposure to the fungus — which flourishes in warm, damp and humid conditions — can lead to serious health problems such as allergies, asthma and fever.

“You don’t want mold in your home,” said Earl Harrington, owner of the District-based Harrington Contractors Inc. “That’s one of the worst things that can happen.”

More than 10 inches of rain fell in the Washington region from 7 a.m. Friday to 7 a.m. yesterday, according to the National Weather Service. Flooding forced local officials to evacuate at least 1,200 homes in the area.

Mold doesn’t happen immediately after a storm, but experts expect that it could soon crop up in flooded homes.

“If there’s visible mold, you need to remove it,” said Pam Lawn, director of Montgomery County Environmental Field Services. “There could be some issues with cleanup the next couple days.”

Dr. Henry Fishman, an allergist who has a practice in the District, described mold as extremely versatile.

“Mold acts like an irritant, like cigarette smoke. It can cause irritation, allergies, colonization with allergies and infection,” he said.

Local government entities are offering residents information to help combat problems with mold and mildew and to avoid health problems.

The Fairfax County Health Department has distributed information on dealing with mold, mildew and fungi. Information was distributed at town meetings, in flooded neighborhoods and at county service centers.

Mold generally sets in when water sits in the same place for a couple of days.

“If you have moisture and if you have water, then you’re going to have mold,” said Barnes Johnson, deputy director of the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air at the Environmental Protection Agency. “The only mechanism we have for controlling mold is controlling moisture.”

Homeowners concerned about mold should use fans, sump pumps, dehumidifiers, air-conditioning units or other tools to dry the flooded areas of their homes immediately. They also can scrub the affected areas with cleaning materials such as bleach and water.

“Eliminating the moisture is the first step,” said Ron Moolenaar, field epidemiology team chief for the Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch, National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Mold is kind of ubiquitous in the environment. If it’s already there, you want to get rid of it as soon as possible.”

Carpets, upholstery, textiles, stuffed animals, fabrics and other porous materials absorb water and can be particularly susceptible to mold.

A stuffed animal infested with mold, for example, generally has to be thrown out. However, mold abatement professionals can be hired to try to salvage cherished household items.

Companies that remove mold or help homeowners keep water out of their residences have been deluged with calls for help in recent days.

“Overwhelming is the word to describe what’s going on here,” said Mike Mullins of Maryland Waterproofing.

Amy Coffin, who works at ServiceMaster in Alexandria, said the prodigious rain has presented a challenge for local companies.

“Everyone is completely booked,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are tons of people out there who are sitting in wet houses who won’t get helped for weeks, or even a month.”

Experts suggest that to prevent water from getting into their residences, homeowners should clean the gutters and try to get water to flow away from their homes.

“You just have to be vigilant,” Mr. Harrington said. “It’s like checking the oil in your car.”

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