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Officials Issue New Orleans Mold Warning

Environmental Protection Agency Warns of Unscrupulous Cleanup Firms
By
WebMD Health News

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 scams.

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 told reporters.

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 said.

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.

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