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FEMA flooding

Mike Moore for FEMA

Flooding leaves behind mold and mildew long after waters subside and people can return to their homes. Health risks due to mold exposure can include asthma attacks and pneumonia.

April showers brings mold. Don't let your house make you sick

by Janelle Schroeder
May 19, 2011

teddy bear

Leif Skoogfors for FEMA

Many children's toys can hide mold after a flood and should be thrown away to prevent illness.

What are the chances that your child’s teddy bear is hiding something that could cause severe illness? If the spring floods or water damaged your home, the chances are higher than you might think.

Mold and mildew grow rapidly after a flood, often within 24 hours, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA recommends that recent flood victims, such as those in Southern Illinois and along the Mississippi River, heed the following advice: Protect your family’s health and your own by treating or discarding mold- and mildew-infected items.

The Chicago area has its share of flooded and wet basements in spring. And backup from the interconnected sewer system carrying both storm runoff and sanitary sewer waste can mean residents have to clear muck, throw out possessions and redo their basements over and over again.

“Ultimately the most important thing to do is to be very, very safe,” said Martha Carlos, senior manager of marketing and communications at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. She suggests that those affected by serious flooding and evacuations stay away from the affected areas until officials clear it for return.

But mold and mildew can cause problems with even minor floods or continuing damp conditions.

Allergy sufferers are more susceptible to problems from exposure to mold. According to the Illinois Department of Health, sensitive people may have allergic reactions with symptoms that include a runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes, skin rash and dermatitis. The department warns that mold exposure may trigger asthma attacks and pneumonia in some people.

To prevent sickness from mold after a flood or water damage, proper cleanup procedures are a must. FEMA advises opening the windows for ventilation and to wear rubber gloves and eye protection when cleaning.

The Illinois Department of Health also advises residents to wear a properly fitted N-95 or HEPA filter facemask.

“These masks can be purchased at a minimal cost at a hardware store,” said Kelly Jakubek, IDPH communications manager.

Dehumifiers and fans can help dry out wet areas as well.

Household items such as wood, upholstered and other porous furniture and items can trap mold. If any item cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried, it should be thrown away to protect the household from mold exposure.

Glass, plastic and metal objects can often be more easily cleaned, disinfected and reused. FEMA suggests that homeowners first separate items into categories to properly determine what items should be cleaned and what should be thrown away.

The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago advises residents to always throw away canned goods, water bottles, plastic utensils and baby bottle nipples.

To clean all areas and washable items, use a non-ammonia soap or detergent. To disinfect, mix 1 1/4 cups of household bleach in a gallon of water and thoroughly rinse and disinfect the area. FEMA warns against mixing bleach with ammonia since the resulting fumes are toxic.

“There are just so many things that can happen in a flood,” Carlos said.