Mold causes concern in floodwaters' wake

(Originally published in the Telegraph on 7/25/08)

GRAFTON - As Mississippi River floodwaters recede, the problem of mold is going up, and not everyone agrees on methods to halt its growth.

Grafton business owners once threatened by water leaving its banks are among those who have worked many days on the bothersome task of cleanup.

"We started (cleaning up the basement) as soon as the water went down. Everything was destroyed," said Ruebel Hotel & Saloon owner Mohammad Khamee. "I was surprised how much mold and humidity damaged. I'm just totally surprised."

"We didn't hire any of [the cleaning] out," Piasa Winery employee Kathryn Jones said. "We used lots of dehumidifiers, big fans, blowers, bleach and then they had some type of mold-killing chemical. And many, many hours of elbow grease."

Cleaning the winery's basement - once flooded by five-and-a-half feet of filthy river water - was no small task, Jones said.

"We spent days down there power washing," she said this week. "We power washed, scrubbed and power washed again. We're still pulling moisture out of the bricks in the walls."

Some business owners benefited from taking preventative measures, lowering the likelihood of mold growth.

"We didn't give (the restaurant) a chance to sit and stagnate and mold," Loading Dock owner Peter Allen said. "We replaced any wood and used bleach - 10 times more bleach than you should on anything. We were proactive."

"We took pure bleach and weed sprayers and went around the walls and sprayed everything with bleach, let it sit for a little bit, took a power washer and washed it all down," said Oliver Ready, owner of Ready's Fish Market. "We did the same thing on the floors - bleached them good and then we painted. And everything came out nice and pretty and bright. Took us about four days."

Ready routinized a successful flood cleanup regimen over the years.

"This is not my first rodeo; I've ridden that old horse before," he said. "I've got concrete blocks and concrete floors, and I've always cleaned up well, even in the '93 flood. As long as (bleach) was on there, it just cleaned up real good."

Residences in Hamburg have also fallen prey to mold damage, especially the vacation clubhouses raised on stilts near the river, said Hamburg Trustee Steve Doerr.

"A few people had to (replace their) drywall," Doerr said. "Mold is coming up the walls about a foot high. If it's on the outside of the walls, it's on the inside of the walls."

The affected homeowners of Calhoun County have approached mold cleanup in varying ways.

"It all depends on how much money you've got," Doerr said. "Bleach and sponges and a spray bottle are cheap. Hiring a contractor to fix the walls is expensive."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency urges those affected by flooding to secure their homes against mold sooner than later.

"Mold is an ever-present problem following storm flooding and can be a significant health risk if care is not taken," FEMA said in a statement. "Infants, children, immune-compromised patients, pregnant women, individuals with existing respiratory conditions (allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity and asthma) and the elderly appear to be at higher risks for adverse health effects from mold."

FEMA, in conjunction with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, suggested such mold prevention techniques as hiring professionals to inspect and clean air ducts; cleaning and drying fabrics; rebuilding facilities with water-resistant building materials; reducing moisture with air conditioners and dehumidifiers and cleaning with a 10 percent bleach solution.

One organization, however, contradicted FEMA's advice to fight mold with bleach.

"Bleach can remove discoloration caused by mold but may leave behind the micro-flora that enable mold to return to exactly the same spot," National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors spokesperson Nina Lowy said in a statement. "Bleach won't destroy the spores - essentially seeds - underneath."

The organization promotes the use of "only EPA-registered mold and mildew products labeled as a cleaner, disinfectant, fungicide and/or mildewstat," which are "effective at killing the micro-flora that can enable mold to grow and make property potentially uninhabitable."

Kenny Karlas, owner of Karlas Construction Co. in Wood River, agreed bleach is not the answer.

"You have to get (the building) open to the air and see what the situation is and treat it accordingly," Karlas said. "A lot of the times if you try to kill (mold) with bleach water, you don't get it all. There are much better products, and bleach is not 100 percent of the solution to the problem."

The construction company is bidding on two projects to raise cabins north of Pere Marquette Lodge & Conference Center, Karlas said.


Health officials say problems from exposure to mold can follow if it is disturbed through improper cleanup procedures. Also, mold is easily transferred from one surface to another. Infants, children, immune-compromised patients, pregnant women, individuals with existing respiratory conditions (allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, and asthma) and the elderly appear to be at higher risks for adverse health effects from mold.

Symptoms can include nose and throat irritation, wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks in individuals who have asthma, and lower respiratory tract infections in children. People with pre-existing respiratory conditions also may be susceptible to more serious lung infections.

SUGGESTIONS to help in preventing mold:

* Rebuild or retrofit with water-resistant building materials such as tile, stone, deep-sealed concrete, galvanized or stainless steel hardware, indoor/outdoor carpeting, waterproof wallboard and water-resistant glues.

* Clean fabrics such as curtains and upholstery often and keep them dry. Store clean fabric items in well-ventilated areas.

* Consider having air ducts cleaned and inspected professionally or replaced.

* Reduce moisture in the air with dehumidifiers, fans and open windows or air conditioners. Do not use fans if mold already exists; a fan will spread the mold spores.

* Routinely check potential problem spots. Disinfect often with a 10 percent solution of bleach - about 1-1/4 cup of bleach to a gallon of water. Don't add ammonia as mixing bleach and ammonia will create toxic fumes.


* Federal Emergency Management Agency at

* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at

* Individuals also may obtain a free copy of FEMA's publication, Mold & Mildew: Cleaning Up Your Flood-Damaged Home, Publication No. 606, by contacting FEMA Publications at 1 (800) 480-2520.