Watch out for mold, FEMA will tell region

Riverhead residents still pumping water out of their basements following the drenching rains of March will have to face another element of flood damage as warmer weather arrives: mold.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working to spread the word on mold, the health threat it poses. FEMA plans to send representatives to the area in the coming weeks to educate residents on the dangers of mold and how to get rid of it.

Symptoms of the adverse effects of mold include throat irritation, coughing and asthma. “People that have these symptoms or are allergic to mold shouldn’t attempt to remove mold,” said Loaitza Esquilin Gardia, a FEMA spokeswoman.

“Those early symptoms can cause serious respiratory problems if there is long-term exposure to mold,” she added.

Mold will grow easily in humid areas and will spread rapidly when it’s warm outside, Ms. Gardia said. “Our priority is to make homeowners aware that mold is a problem and how to correct it, she said.”

FEMA officials will knock on doors and stop in hardware stores to talk to customers who are there for supplies to tackle mold problems, according to Ms. Gardia.

Mold actually has a purpose. According to the EPA’s website, it breaks down dead organic matter, such as fallen leaves and trees, but indoor growth may occur when mold spores in the air land on wet surfaces.

Ms. Garcia said places where mold commonly grows include basements and bathrooms. “People should pay attention to and monitor all water source areas in their homes,” Ms. Garcia said. “Be aware of water leaks, A/C pumps and condensation on windows and walls.”

She said mold may be hidden behind dry wall, wallpaper or paneling, ceiling tiles and underneath carpets. Residents should investigatemusty odors or a foul stench where water damage is visible, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“Document everything,” Ms. Garcia said. “Take pictures of any damage for insurance and evaluation purposes before you begin to clean up.”

The non-allergic homeowner should be able to handle the job, according to the EPA, if the affected moldy area is no larger than 10 square feet. A professional contractor should be hired if water or mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water.

The CDC recommends that residents remove porous items that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried and have been wet for more than 48 hours, including carpeting and carpet padding, upholstery, wallpaper, drywall, floor and ceiling tiles, insulation material, clothing, leather, paper, wood and food.

“We don’t want people to leave moldy rugs in their living room,” Ms. Garcia said. “Our priority is to have people living in healthy homes.”

Passing on tips from the CDC and EPA, Ms. Garcia offered these guidelines for cleaning up mold and preventing its spread:

* Wear rubber gloves, eye protection and an N-95 rated dust mask.

* Clean wet items and surfaces with detergent and water, then again with a solution of one to two cups of bleach to a gallon of water.

* Never mix bleach with other cleaning products because toxic fumes could be produced.

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