NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.: – In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene with its devastating rainfall and subsequent flooding, a dramatic increase in the amount of mold found inside and outside the home can be expected.
According to Leonard Bielory, M.D., an allergy specialist with the Rutgers Center of Environmental Prediction at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, molds–along with pollens from trees, grasses, and weeds– are an important trigger of allergic rhinitis and asthma.
“Mold spores contain allergens, substances that some immune systems recognize as dangerous,” says Bielory, who is also director of the STARx Allergy and Asthma Center in Springfield, New Jersey.
“Exposure to mold can trigger an allergic reaction such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, coughing and hay fever-like symptoms,” he adds. Similar events have occurred in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and with mold counts as high as 10,000, allergy sufferers are facing more stress than usual. Bielory typically sees mold levels ranging from 2,000 to 6000, so current readings are almost double the norm, with even higher levels in crawl spaces and basements.
In addition to the potential effects on outdoor mold growth and allergen release related to changing climatic variables, there is also concern about indoor mold growth in association with rising air moisture, especially after extreme storms and flooding, explains Bielory. Mold allergy, associated with asthma and other respiratory symptoms are 30–50% more prevalent in damp houses, especially damp basements. ”This is now a commonplace problem after Hurricane Irene and with the continue rainfall of the last week or so,” he says
Molds are microscopic organisms that are pervasive in any outdoor environment. However, they may be brought inside via clothing, shoes and soils. Mold needs only a food source, warm environment and moisture to grow. It may be invisible to the eye or look like furry growth, black stains or specks of black, white, orange, green and brown on surfaces. Large infestations are usually visible or give off a noticeable smell.
Most fungi are well adapted for wind spore dispersal. Species such as Alternaria, Cladosporium and Aspergillus have been associated in some, but not all studies, with a higher prevalence of asthma hospital admissions. Increased humidity along with higher wind speeds trigger spore production and dissemination. Exposure to high levels of outdoor mold is frequently linked to increased asthma symptoms and severity, leading to increased emergency care visits. But indoor molds also pose a hazard and usually follow storms with heavy rainfall and flooding commonly associated with basements or crawl spaces, under sinks, and near windows and leaky pipes.
Dr. Bielory recommends the following steps to rid your home of mold:
• Wear a filter mask if mold exposure is anticipated
• Eliminate any source of excess dampness in basements
• Keep indoor humidity levels between 40-50 percent (use a dehumidifier, if necessary)
• Change heating and cooling filters regularly
• Clean washable surfaces with a bleach solution
• Use exhaust fans in the bathroom and wipe down the shower after use
• Monitor pollen and mold counts at NYNJPollen.com.
Media Contact: Paula Walcott-Quintin