By Mike Cahill
If you have residential or commercial property, you need guidelines on what to do after a flood. If the right actions aren’t done immediately, mold can contaminate the structure quickly and cause even more expensive and potentially dangerous problems.
Flood waters and moisture can cause major property damage. Wood swells and rots, drywall disintegrates, and most paper items are destroyed. Outside substances such as mud, soil, insects, small animals and refuse can soak into everything in the structure. Disposing of carpets, fabrics, furnishings, drywall and wood, plus the cleanup and repainting costs, are usually covered by flood insurance, but that is something that the homeowner or property owner will need to have as part of their policy.
However, many of the long-term problems that become apparent weeks, months or years after the water is gone are often not covered by insurance. At the top of the list are problems caused by mold. This can grow on most common surfaces, and moisture can accelerate their spread and growth. Once mold spores have hold in a structure, they are difficult to eradicate. The spores are microscopic and light enough to be carried throughout the building by air flow. They then can settle on surfaces and remain dormant for extended periods, then can germinate and re-infest the property when conditions are right, such as when humidity increases inside the home or business.
What kind of flooding do you have?
Before starting the process of water cleanup, you have to determine what type of water has flooded your structure. Depending on the source of the water, different standards and techniques for remediation are required. Here the classification of water damage given by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Remediation Certification (IICRC) is helpful. This classification takes into account the water source, its contents and its history:
This is flood water that doesn’t contain contaminants and thus doesn’t pose an immediate health threat. This includes flood damage from broken water lines, malfunctioning appliances, toilet tank overflows, flooding from snow melts and rainwater. However, within 48 hours clean water can progress to the next category, gray water.
This flooding may create a health risk because there is the potential for chemical or biological contamination. These waters include flooding from dishwashers, washing machines, sinks, showers, aquariums and waterbeds. Time in handling this is of importance – within 48 hours in contact with building surfaces most gray water should be reclassified as black water.
This water contains definite health risks because they are presumed to have multiple and potentially harmful contaminants. Black water includes floodwaters containing soil and sewage, all raw sewage is contaminated with microbes – such as bacteria, protozoans, molds, fungi and viruses – which cause disease in humans. This can include illnesses such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and gastric illnesses that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever and severe abdominal cramps. Fecal matter contamination may also norovirus and lead to parasitic illnesses.
If contact is made with black water or contaminated surfaces, that can lead to transfer to the skin and mouth. During and after the water damage cleanup process infections may occur due to microbe inhalation unless proper precautions are taken. The dust may even trigger allergies in some people.
What should you do to prevent that risk?
1. Immediate dry out of your property
Time is of the essence. Provided that the property is thoroughly dried out within 48 hours and the source of the problem arrested, if the flooding is either clean or gray water further problems are unlikely. However, in the case of gray water flooding you should categorize the problem as black water after 48 hours.
Professionals will perform water extraction and remove excess moisture to prevent further damage, as well as thoroughly dry out the area using professional grade equipment.
2. Cleanup and remove any black water contamination
Because of the health risk involved, considerable care and due-diligence inspections, testing, and documentation is needed in a black water cleanup. Unless there is an obvious cause of the flooding, sewage leaks may be caused by blocked or damaged pipes, sewer systems that are under-sized, or outdoor rains penetrating leaky sewer pipes.
Professional and qualified sewage cleanup professionals should apply certain guidelines for the cleanup. It is not advisable for water restoration to take place for black water unless the technicians are equipped with the correct equipment and training.
3. Restoration of the affected area
Any materials that have been permanently damaged will be removed. Using advanced equipment and cleaning products, remaining surfaces and items are then cleaned and disinfected. Finally, any lingering odors on the property or mold growth are addressed.
4. Post cleanup inspection
There should be a final visual inspection and testing of the flooded area. In addition to a thorough visual inspection the following tests can be doneL
1. Moisture meter readings of surfaces to confirm that all previously wetted materials have thoroughly dried out.
2. Microbial sampling of suspect surfaces for organisms such as E.coli.
3. Traces of disinfectants, variations in temperatures, desiccation of the samples, etc., may kill bacteria but other harmful substances may still be present. There are several additional tests that may be employed to help evaluate that even traces of fecal contamination have been eliminated.
4. Spore trap samples for airborne mold spores.
5. Reconstruction and repair if needed
Any affected areas where materials had to be removed can be restored to normal with proper water damage repair and reconstruction. This can include wood, drywall, carpets, insulation and other surfaces that are rebuilt and restored to pre-damage condition.