Isabel leaves a trail of mold

Cleanup: The tropical storm and this year's heavy rains have created ideal conditions for the growth to flourish.

October 19, 2003|By Trif Alatzas | Trif Alatzas,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

Mold cleanup has become another chore facing many homeowners in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isabel.

Given the flooding that damaged so many homes along Maryland's shoreline, mold cleanup workers said they have been fielding scores of telephone calls about fuzzy growths in rafters and along soaked drywall. Maryland had experienced a wet season leading into last month's storm, so drying out is taking a little longer than usual and postponing efforts to renovate damaged properties.

"I think we'll see a lot more problems in the next month," said Dan Price, president and owner of Price and Sons Inc., a mold remediation firm in Towson. "People don't know how important it is now to address it so that they can prevent a problem later."

Experts point out that finding mold in a home is not a reason to panic. Most molds are not harmful to the general population, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But homeowners should do their best to quickly wipe out the conditions in which mold breeds. That primarily means drying out any moist environments and cleaning or removing any areas affected by mold growth. Experts recommend dehumidifiers and fans to help dry an area.

"It isn't always a health hazard, and it depends on the individual," said Robert Hamilton, a Johns Hopkins University professor of medicine who studies allergies. "However, in indoor environments, it should be dealt with immediately. It's not an expensive thing to do. It's just a matter of catching it early."

Mold has been one of the hottest topics in real estate during the past two years as legal judgments and rising insurance costs have moved the issue to the forefront of the industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it is impossible to rid a home of mold because there are thousands of kinds. The agency said health studies continue to better understand what harm certain molds can pose. Specialists said that if left unchecked, some molds could create health problems among people with allergies, pregnant women, children and the elderly. Some symptoms of a mold reaction can include rashes, watery eyes, runny noses, itchy throats and asthma attacks.

It also can weaken floors and walls in wood-framed homes, according to the EPA.

"The key is to react right away and get it dried out," said Frank Nemshick, executive vice president for Alex R. Szeles Inc., a Baltimore contractor that specializes in disaster cleanup. "Then you're OK to put it all back together."

For homeowners who are busy cleaning up after Isabel, mold can present yet another burden.

Basement, living room

Susan Sibiski saw water flood her Bowleys Quarters basement and portions of her living room. She noticed almost immediately that mold had begun to grow in the rafters and called in professionals. She expects that her flood insurance will handle the cost.

"I have no clue whatsoever what the mold costs will be or what they even do to remove it," Sibiski said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Flood Insurance program covers mold cleanup, a spokesman said. Homeowners need to prove that the mold is a result of the flooding and that efforts were made to address any problems quickly.

The agency recommends that homeowners remove wet materials such as carpeting, padding and drywall and use cleansers to keep growth at bay.

Detergent, water

EPA guidelines recommend using detergent and water. Most homeowners can tackle areas less than 10 square feet themselves, according to the EPA.

Testing for mold can cost as little as $65 and as much as $1,500. Cleanup costs can range from $200 to several thousand dollars. Specialists have testing machines to pinpoint the kind of mold in a building. Some even use trained dogs to detect the scent of possible harmful molds.

"We've been inundated from all sides," said Dave Marcelli, owner of Mold Trackers LLC in Westminster, whose trained dog can identify a variety of molds in areas behind walls and other hidden spots. "It's been an incredibly wet season."

Homeowners also should keep a watchful eye on any areas that have been affected by water, experts said.

"A good signal will be a musty smell or a similar odor as well as visible signs of water damage," said Mike Hollman, vice president of Professional Restoration Inc. in Rosedale. "Normally, mold will start growing within three to four days. It's not something that happens immediately."

Mold cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency offers some suggestions for mold cleanup:

Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible.

Dry all items completely.

Scrub areas affected by mold with detergent and water.

Items like ceiling tiles and carpet that absorb water may have to be discarded if they become moldy.

If a moldy area is less than 10 square feet, a homeowner probably can address the problem himself. The EPA recommends wearing a dust mask, gloves and goggles for safety. Larger areas may need professional cleanup. Consider specialists who are affiliated with professional organizations and check references.

If mold or water damage was caused by a sewage backup or other contaminated water, check with a professional about cleanup.

If heating or air-conditioning units have been affected, the EPA's free guide titled Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned? can provide advice. Call 800-438-4318 to request a copy.

More information is available at

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