Officials Issue New Orleans Mold Warning
Environmental Protection Agency Warns of Unscrupulous Cleanup Firms
Sept. 28, 2005 -- Federal health officials warned Wednesday of the potential
health risks of mold in areas flooded by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Officials
also alerted evacuees returning home to be on the lookout for mold cleanup
Persistent and potentially dangerous mold is a problem mostly in New
Orleans, where buildings spent days and in many cases weeks under water. That's
more than enough time for moisture to permeate walls and floors and provide an
ideal growth medium for mold.
Health and environmental officials Wednesday urged residents returning to
flood-affected areas to quickly clean up mold contamination to avoid potential
illnesses. Small amounts of mold can be cleaned by homeowners themselves. Moldy
surfaces over 10 square feet require professional removal, said Steven Redd,
MD, chief of the CDC's Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch.
"Those [surfaces] that can't be cleaned need to be removed," Redd
Mold Testing Scams
At the same time, officials urged residents to mostly avoid mold testing
offered by many remediation contractors. The testing is largely useless and
lacks standards that can determine what levels of mold are actually unsafe,
said Barnes Johnson, deputy director of the office of radiation and indoor air
at the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Pay close attention to contractors whose immediate recommendation
appears to be testing," he said. Testing usually "is a financial
diversion away from what the problem really is."
Mold is everywhere in the environment but can become highly concentrated on
perennially damp surfaces in homes.
Short-term mold exposure is usually harmless
for nonsusceptible people, but those with underlying conditions should avoid
moldy houses and buildings, Redd said. Anyone doing demolition or large-scale
cleanup work in damp areas should use an M-95 mask to filter breathed air, he
Barnes said his agency is also monitoring New Orleans for toxic dust left
behind by dried flood sediments. "For unusually sensitive people, we found
some levels that would be of concern to them," he told reporters.
The agency is concerned about toxic organic compounds, metals, and PCBs, as
well as fecal bacteria and petroleum hydrocarbons that may become airborne as
sediment dust is kicked up into the air.