Mold threat grows as humidity continues to linger
Health experts suggest using bleach or soap to wash off stains
Islanders might be stuck with increased mold as a nasty reminder of the constant rain and humidity the past month.
"There's always mold everyplace with the rains and everything," said Shawn Haruno, state Health Department environmental health specialist with the Noise, Radiation and Indoor Air Quality Branch.
When people fail to get rid of standing water and get everything dried out, "that's when you start to see mold growth," he said.
The Health Department has seen a bump in the number of calls during this rainy weather -- between 10 and 20 calls a day -- regarding rainwater, flooding, whether to dispose of water-damaged items and mold growth cleanup.
Haruno said he went to the disaster assistance and recovery center and talked to some residents who are starting to see mold from standing water.
He recommended using a soap or bleach solution -- one cup bleach to one gallon of water -- to wash off mold.
If it gets into fibers like carpeting, Haruno said, it is hard to get out, and it is best to throw away those kinds of materials.
If it gets into drywall, he said companies that do remediation cut out the bottom two or three feet and replace it.
George Wong, University of Hawaii associate professor of botany, said mold often gets inside drywall when it gets wet. "As long as it's in there, it's probably not going to do anything."
He said he lived in a house 10 years with mold in the drywall before contractors told him about it and took it away during renovations.
"If it's on the outside, and I imagine probably a lot of houses are like that now with all the rain and everything -- the humidity has been really high -- it's going to stimulate growth of mold," Wong said.
He suggests using a bleach solution to clean off a wall if it is a painted surface and keeping windows open for circulation. A heavy concentration of soap also might work for some areas, he said.
Haruno said a lot of people are worried about black mold, which possibly could be Stachybotrys chartarium. This fungus has the potential to be toxic, but it depends on the growing conditions, he said.
More common molds found indoors are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria and Aspergillus.
"Any mold indoors is unwanted, but its effect is going to depend on a person's sensitivities and immune system," Haruno said. "In a healthy person, it shouldn't do much more than maybe (cause) some sniffling or allergic reactions."
But it can cause some respiratory problems in people with compromised immune systems, he said.
Wong said everybody points to black mold "like it's a magnitude of difference between all the others. There's certain fear about that one, but a lot of common molds you find also can be harmful if the right species are there."
For example, he said, there are many species of Aspergillus, a family of fungal organisms and molds. Japanese use it to make sake and miso.
"On the other hand, some species go through an air conditioning system and they're harmful to inhale," he said.
Aspergillosis is an infection caused by Aspergillus, which is commonly found in air.
Penicillium is a mold that can be useful, but there also are harmful species, Wong said.
Mold can get into jacks and attack electrical wiring, he pointed out: "Did you wonder why the Russian space station had so many electrical problems? Mold got into the station and was eating away at the wiring."
A lot of mold also is getting into the International Space Station, mutating and "becoming more efficient at eating away at things."