How to get rid of the fungus among us from the hurricane

BY HEATHER DUBIN |  Mold removal might top your spring cleaning to-do list if your home or business was flooded by Hurricane Sandy.

With warmer temperatures on the horizon, Graffiti Community Ministries, a Baptist church on E. Seventh St., held a mold-awareness and cleanup seminar on Monday night March 4. Put together by the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, and the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the event drew about 15 people, who learned how to identify mold, and safely get rid of it.

“If you can’t see it, go by smell,” said Andrew McCartor, a regional program director for Blacksmith Institute, who specializes in environmental health training and led the session. He instructed locals to follow their nose to a “musty, like an old towel, distinct dank earthy smell,” to find the culprit, which could be hidden between pieces of material. “Mold can eat glue,” he added. A telltale visual is a fuzzy material or discolored walls and ceilings.

Mold buries its roots into materials, and once it grows stems, spores are released from the seedpod.

“That’s what we are worried about,” said McCartor. While mold only thrives in damp conditions, if it’s in a basement, and a door opens to a living room, the spores will travel upstairs.

Its adverse effects include: breathing difficulties, cold symptoms, a cough, or wheezing. Pets are equally susceptible.

“Dead and dry mold is just as dangerous as live growing spores,” McCartor explained. “It’s a health hazard to you.” The bottom line — get the mold out.

To do this, McCartor outlined a five-step process. First, “muck-out,” or remove everything from the flooded area that isn’t stone, concrete or part of the structure. Next, gut: Take away any wet or damaged building materials, like drywall and paneling. Then, clean all mold and mud, top to bottom. Follow by drying with dehumidifiers in the middle of the room, elevated if possible, and windows closed. Use fans to blow air out to create a low-pressure situation. Finally, rebuild.

He discussed how to use safety equipment for cleanup — such as an N95 respirator, a protective suit, gloves, brushes, soap, towels and safety glasses — and attendees received a free bag filled with these items.

“Tape up your suit if it’s too big so you won’t rub up against mold,” he noted. “And take off the suit in the basement or outside when you’re done.” Clear plastic sheeting in doorways prevents contamination, reduces air flow and lowers spore count. Also, use a HEPA vacuum.

Locals were advised to use soap and warm water on mold instead of biocides.

“It’s good enough,” McCartor said. “You don’t have to kill it, you have to just remove it.”

A mold seminar offered at the church on Nov. 5, led by Hurricane Katrina recovery workers, recommended ShockWave, an E.P.A.-registered disinfectant, for removal.

However, McCartor explained, “There were health concerns about untrained people using it [biocides] incorrectly and hurting themselves.”

If you use a contractor for the cleanup, do your research.

“There is no certification for contractors dealing with hurricane removal here,” McCartor pointed out. See if the contractor has worked in your neighborhood, if clients were happy, and ask for a detailed plan. Use a moisture meter, a handheld device to gauge the moisture of materials and surfaces.

There will be 15 to 20 training sessions for New York area neighborhoods that were flooded. A community disaster relief, muck-out and mold-training seminar will be held at the Graffiti Church on Mon., March 18, at 7 p.m.

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