Flood victims race to defeat a new threat: mould

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Flood victims race to defeat a new threat: mould

A new countdown has begun for the hundreds of already beleaguered flood victims as they race to dry out their houses before toxic mould builds up.

And once again, the weather — this time in the form of unseasonable warmth — isn't cooperating.

"Right now we're fighting mould," explained Thomas Little on a tour of his flooded basement on Cartier Street in Gatineau.

"If I let this go a couple of days, that's it. It could affect my whole house."

Little is one of the lucky ones. He already has a professional crew on site to help empty the basement and start the job of cleaning.

Yann Guilbeault, with Service Sinistre Outaouais, said his company is doing three homes at a time on Little's street. Elsewheresome seventy-five workers are fanned out around the region emptying flooded homes.

Guilbeault said there's 24- to 48-hour window for homeowners once the water recedes — roughly the time it takes for mould to grow on damp surfaces.

"It's important to do the work fast," he said.

This cleaning is covered by both the Quebec and Ontario disaster relief programs.

But with a limited number of companies equipped for this cleanup many of the 1,200 residents affected by flooding on both sides of the river may be on their own when it comes to the initial removal of everything from flooded basements — including drywall and flooring.

Municipal websites feature the dos and don'ts for doing the job safely on your own.

Ottawa Public Health is advising residents to use masks, proper clothing and gloves while removing material.

Mould is a type of microscopic fungus that produces allergens and irritants that can make you sick, according to Dominique Bremner, the program manager of inspections with Ottawa Public Health.

Infants, children and the elderly may be at greater risk for mould-borne illnesses, she explained.

The symptoms can include nasal and sinus congestion, a sore throat and upper respiratory infections.

"With mould, the hazard comes when some types become airborne," explained Bremner.

Here are some tips from the Ottawa Public Health website for cleaning out your home after the flood.

- Drain or mop standing water.

- Remove waterlogged items from the home when possible.

- Open doors and windows to ventilate your home.

- Open closets, drawers and cabinet doors.

- Circulate air with fans, ideally pushing air out a window or door.

- Run one or more dehumidifiers as needed.

- You may need to re-clean surfaces on which mould is growing several times until the moisture levels no longer support mould growth.

- Commercial anti-mould sprays are available to control mould growth during the drying phase. One can also mix household bleach and water and lightly spray surfaces using an atomizer (use 60 millilitres of bleach per litre of water).

Ottawa Public Health also warns the public about professional cleaning or renovation scams targeting flood victims.