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Mold issues pile up in Maine after rainy winter storms

Jon Symonds, senior production manager at ServPro, inspects a basement in Bangor for mold. He found only harmless efflorescence, which is a deposit of salts, on the cement walls, but said calls from people concerned about mold have been increasing in the wake of more floods.
Erin Rhoda
/
Bangor Daily News
Jon Symonds, senior production manager at ServPro, inspects a basement in Bangor for mold. He found only harmless efflorescence, which is a deposit of salts, on the cement walls, but said calls from people concerned about mold have been increasing in the wake of more floods.

Mainers whose living or work spaces were flooded in this winter's storms are finding that getting the water out of their structures isn't the end of their problem. Many are now having to deal with mold.

Reporter Lori Valigra of the Bangor Daily News has been looking into this, with help from Climate Central, a nonprofit made up of scientists and journalists.

Valigra told Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz that the health issues associated with mold include respiratory problems that can develop rapidly.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Valigra: It's difficult to have a cause and effect of mold and what it does to your health. But there are associations — people who have mold will have more exacerbated asthma symptoms. Even for those without asthma or allergies, you could start to see symptoms of shortness of breath, watery eyes, watery nose, headaches, sluggishness, tiredness.

Gratz: It's never really a good idea to allow mold to be unchecked in a living space, I take it? Doing something about it is an imperative.

It is. Some people can't afford to do that. You can live with it. But you will have the symptoms of pretty much persistent cold.

How easy or difficult is it for homeowners to hire the people they would need to deal with mold at this point?

Like any service in Maine, they're in short supply when there's an emergency, but there are quite a few companies that specialize in water removal, drying out the basement and then, separately, restoration. And they are two different processes. And you should be careful when you hire somebody to make sure that they're not only going to take out the wet drywall and the wet floors and sofas and other things you might have in, for example, a basement that's finished. But then you want to get people who can restore it, try to remediate what might happen in the future. Are there cracks in the wall? Is it persistently humid in one area of the house? So you should get better ventilation, a dehumidifier. So there are things that these companies can come in and do. It's important to get them in there quickly, the mold can start in the first 24 hours. And within a few hours of that you can start having symptoms of mold toxicity.

What kind of expense are we talking about?

Well, the estimates I was given by the contractors I talked to was they varied all over the place, depending on the extent of the damage. If you have a small closet, it could cost as much as $1,000. An entire home that gets encumbered by mold might cost $50,000 to $70,000 to remediate, and that would include putting in proper venting. So the cost can vary.

We've been talking mostly here about the effects of severe weather, but your reporting also found this is getting to be a bigger problem just in Maine summers. Why is that?

Well, we've had record heat in the summers and the hot air brings with it more moisture. And that is a very good condition for mold. Mold likes humidity, it likes dampness. And that's why in the summer, these restoration companies have a lot more calls. They were telling me they were having a record number of calls just by people concerned about smells they were getting and actually visualizing mold. A lot of times you can't see mold. The mold could be behind the walls. So you have to really get it checked by a professional if you're if you're overly concerned about it.