Agents Answer Flood of Mold Questions

Carolyn Leperi was one of the LSU AgCenter experts who answered a toll-free hotline operated for several months after the hurricanes to answer callers’ questions about disaster recovery. The hotline has been discontinued. (Photo by Mark Claesgens)

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and their aftermath created a flood of questions for LSU AgCenter agents about mold, particularly in New Orleans, where homes and buildings sat in water and intense heat for several weeks.

The response included putting together and distributing a 32-page booklet “Storm Recovery Guide for Homeowners” and a flyer “Cleaning Flood-Damaged Homes.”

Carolyn Leperi, an LSU AgCenter family and consumer sciences agent in St. Bernard Parish, said first she had to dispel fear of “black mold,” the term commonly used to describe the toxic mold Stachybotrys chartarum or Stachybotrys atra. Leperi said while many homes had black-colored mold on the walls, little of the mold was actually of the toxic variety.

Mary Ritter of Kenner had what she called minimal damage to her home – one room with water damage and several trees knocked down in her yard. But mold was growing in her den. She got help from a group of church volunteers who had come to the New Orleans area from all across the United States.

Ritter had attended several AgCenter workshops – on mold, legal matters and stress – and took away a few storm recovery booklets produced by the AgCenter.

“Boxes of booklets are being scooped up,” Ritter said. “I’ve had comments from friends on how helpful they were. I’ve had really excellent feedback because of the literature from the workshops.”

Along with printed materials and workshops, the AgCenter also established a toll-free Disaster Recovery Hotline to help Louisiana citizens obtain information about recovering from the disasters and damages created by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The phone line has since been closed.

The hotline provided callers with recorded answers to frequently asked questions concerning disaster recovery 24 hours a day. Callers also had an option to speak with an LSU AgCenter agent during regular business hours.

“It’s a wonderful way to get answers,” Alexis Navarro, family and consumer sciences agent from Jefferson Parish, said of the telephone hotline. She said a majority of the calls were inquiries about handling mold.

One query was from a woman trying to salvage the marble tops from two tables, Leperi said. Leperi said she recommended an acid wash with lemon juice and then sealing the marble.

Clothing recommendations included washing with detergents and hanging dry because heat from a clothes dryer would set stains, Leperi said.

Leperi was able to help one caller salvage an heirloom christening gown.

And another caller inquired about saving a fur coat.

Navarro said callers also asked about mold on cookware, china and crystal. And the answer, she said, was that non-porous materials could be cleaned and disinfected to be used again. “Some things are cleanable and salvageable,” she said.

For questions about mold remediation and specific products, the extension agents referred callers to pest control contractors. They said it’s important for people to deal with companies that are reliable, bonded and insured.

Rick Bogren

(This article appeared in the winter 2006 edition of Louisiana Agriculture.)
4/10/2006 10:46:42 PM
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