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Storm Recovery: The Importance of Quick Action

Colorado Flooding, September 2013
Photo of Colorado flooding September 16, 2013, courtesy of USA Today

Natural disasters that involve water present unique health hazards, requiring extra caution during the aftermath. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's resource Mold After a Disaster:

After natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, excess moisture and standing water contribute to the growth of mold in homes and other buildings. When returning to a home that has been flooded, be aware that mold may be present and may be a health risk for your family.

When assessing water intrusion, it's important to note the three categories of flood water as defined by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, and Restoration Certification:

  • Category 1: Clean Water. Water that originates from a sanitary source and poses no significant risk from contact, ingestion, or inhalation.
  • Category 2: Gray Water. Water has significant contamination and may pose a health hazard if contacted or consumed by humans. (Dishwasher or washing machine overflow, toilet backup without feces, and water from aquariums are in this category.)
  • Category 3: Black Water. Water is heavily contaminated and can contain pathogens or toxins. Anyone who comes in contact with or consumes Category 3 water risks health impacts. (Examples of Category 3 water are sewage; floods from sea, river or lake; and winddriven rain from hurricanes.)

What are the pathogens that may be present in flood waters? According to the Environmental Protection Agency's Flood-Related Cleaning Report:

Flood water is often contaminated with pathogens from sewage, farm animal wastes, and wild animal populations, or that occur naturally in bodies of water (IICRC 2006, FEMA 1992, Straub 1993, Berry 1994, Godfree 2005). Although a complete list would be too long to present here, the following biological agents represent the pathogens that can be found in flood water and residue:


  • Giardia
  • Entameba


  • Campylobacter
  • Salmonella
  • Shigella
  • Norovirus
  • Enterococci
  • E. coli
  • Legionella
  • Leptospira


  • Hepatitis A
  • Rotavirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Enterovirus
  • Parvovirus

In light of the seriousness of water damage in the indoor environment, the following guidelines may help in the aftermath.

10 Guidelines for Safe Cleanup of Water Intrusion

  1. Understand that time is crucial. Mold grows within 24-48 hours.
  2. Record details of damage with photographs or videos.
  3. Prepare for difficult decisions. Border on the side of caution.
  4. Keep children and pets away from flooded areas. Those entering the site should wear protective gear such as N95 respirator mask, gloves, and goggles.
  5. Recognize mold. Look for discolored walls or ceilings. Check for foul odors. Does the area smell musty?
  6. Dry out the building. Open doors and windows when possible. Use fans. See the CDC's fact sheet Reentering Your Flooded Home.
  7. When in doubt, take it out! Discard porous items that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried.
  8. Pay close attention to and prepare to discard the following: carpeting and carpet padding, upholstery, wallpaper, mattresses, clothing, paper, wood, and food.
  9. Discard contaminated building materials including drywall, insulation, wood flooring.
  10. Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces with hot water and soap. There are varied opinions regarding the use of bleach. All agree that bleach must never be combined with ammonia as toxic fumes will be released. It is important to note that while bleach does kill bacteria and viruses, it does not kill mold; it merely takes away the color. Other cleaning agents include white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, borax, tea tree oil, and liquid detergents.

Helpful Online Resources


"We all suffered from headaches, hormonal body temperature fluctuations, brain fog, fatigue, difficulty breathing, thrush, rashes, and yeast infections... we vacated our home two weeks ago."

– Anonymous

"I've been living in a mold-infested home for 13 months... I was going CRAZY! Finally figured it out... Just a few days of recovering in a mold-free home and I feel AMAZING!!!"

– Lauren

"My symptoms persisted and eventually turned into lethargy and depression. At the age of 26, I required a nap every evening after work."

– Jennifer

"The ERMI mold test as well as your helpful articles and Toxic Talk Tuesday programs have helped us avoid a terrible mistake in purchasing a new home."

– Angela

"My daughter has had many blood samples taken to test for everything imaginable and her doctor just seems puzzled. Everything comes back normal."

– Anonymous

"We were having a lot of health problems and had been to the doctor countless times... we had large circles of slimy greenish-black mold on the bathroom ceiling, where it had caved in a few months before."

– C.

"I have been sick for almost 6 months now and doctors were not able to figure out why. I finally put it all together after going away for vacation for a week and suddenly my symptoms were going away."

– Anonymous

"I started finding myself sitting on the floor in rooms of my house and not remembering how I got there, what I was doing before, or how long I had been there."

– Brenda

"I had been struggling with headaches, head fog, breathing difficulties (unable to get a full breath), constant scalp tingling, migraines, nausea, feeling spacey/detached, and severe itchy skin."

– Anonymous

"I was skeptical at first that these (natural cleaning) products would work, but they work better than the stuff I buy at the store! We will soon be moving to the personal care products as well!"

– Jennifer

"The entire time we lived in our (mold-infested) house the kitchen sponge would get musty smelling within 3-4 days. It was so strange. I had to buy a pack of sponges nearly every week."

– Anonymous

"My daughter started having digestive problems... heart palpitations... coughing episodes... muscle/joint pain... asthma/allergies... Her doctor finally advised me to check for mold in our home."

– Anonymous

"I'm new at this, but today I cleaned my bathroom with baking soda and vinegar. It's much better not having those strong chemical smells afterwards."

– Anonymous

" age 35 or 36 I started to become allergic to everything, and I got asthma at age 36... I went to doctor after doctor after doctor and was desperate for help, but nobody could help me."

– Mia

"Both of my sons went downhill quickly and coughed for months... They both lost their ability to read, had profound vision disturbances, and had phenomenal gastric issues."

– Lee

"I knew it was mold, but doctors kept telling me I had anxiety. I was sitting in my office and could not remember who I was talking to, or what we were talking about."

– Brenda

"Our family has been out of our home for 9 months due to mold... I am so scared and weak from all of this. We have lost friends; family members don't understand."

– Anonymous

"In my moldy home if I left the wet clothes in the washer they would get musty very quickly and I'd have to re-wash... Sometimes I'd run a load, go to work, and they'd be musty when I returned that evening."

– Anonymous

"We had some water leaks in our home... we never thought we needed to clean out and remove the floor, the ceiling, or the drywall... my two small children and I have remained constantly sick for years in this home."

– Mia

This site is dedicated to a true friend and mother — Barbara Dell Kessel (1929-2009)