Fact Sheet on
Natural Disaster Recovery:Fungi
Flood conditions contribute to the growth and
transmission of many kinds of fungi, some of which can cause
sickness. Cleanup workers are at increased risk of exposure to
airborne fungi and their spores because they often handle moldy
building materials, decaying vegetable matter, rotting waste
material, and other fungus-contaminated debris. The fungal material
is carried into the respiratory tract when airborne dust particles
There are many different kinds of fungi, including mildew, molds,
rusts, and yeasts. Most of these are harmless, but some can cause
respiratory and other disorders when workers inhale or come into
contact with fungi. Inhalation is the route of exposure of most
concern to flood cleanup workers. The recommendations below offer
strategies for workers renovating flooded buildings, homes, and
structures to protect themselves while handling building materials
that are visibly contaminated with fungi.
For workers cleaning up flooded buildings, homes, and other
structures, excessive moisture or water accumulation indoors will
encourage the growth of the fungi that are already present. Some
fungi have the potential to cause adverse health effects such as
allergic responses and asthma attacks. Individual who are sensitive
to molds may have signs and symptoms of allergic reactions such as
nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, and wheezing. These individuals
should minimize fungal exposure by wearing respirators, gloves, and
eye protection. They should also seek to eliminate fungi, as
In addition, repeated or prolonged contact of the skin with flood
water and continuous sweating can lead to fungal skin infections.
These can be minimized or avoided by washing the skin with warm,
soapy water and keeping it as dry as possible.
What to do if Symptoms Develop
If a cleanup worker experiences severe allergic or skin symptoms, or
severe flu-like symptoms, he or she should seek medical advice. A
health care provider can determine whether medication or any other
precautions are necessary.
Tips to Remember
For all workers that may be exposed to mold and fungi:
Avoid breathing dust (fungal spores) generated by wet building
materials, crops, and other materials.
Consider using an N-95 NIOSH-approved disposable respirator as
a minimum when working with moldy or damp hay, grain, compost, or
Consider discarding all water damaged materials. Articles that
are visibly contaminated with mold should be discarded. When in
doubt, throw it out.
Surfaces that have a light covering of mold should be scrubbed
with warm, soapy water and rinsed with a disinfectant made of ½
cup liquid household bleach mixed in one gallon of water.
CAUTION: Do not mix bleach with other cleaning products that
After working with mold-contaminated materials, wash
thoroughly, including the hair, scalp, and nails.
If the safety of food or beverage is questionable, throw it
out. Only drink safe drinking water that has been bottled, boiled,
or treated until there is confirmation that the community water
supply is safe for consumption.
For workers that are cleaning up or
renovating buildings and homes that have been flooded, consider the
If flooding has caused severe damage to a building or home and
there is the chance of extensive mold growth, consult with your
insurance carrier or local health department to identify a
professional with expertise in Mold Remediation.
If you suspect that flooding has damaged building integrity,
consult a structural engineer or other professional with
NIOSH-approved respirators are strongly recommended.
Respiratory protection such as the N-95 must be used in accordance
with OSHA's Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134).
Also wear gloves and eye protection.
Remove building materials and furnishings that are wet and may
become contaminated with mold growth and place them in sealed
impermeable bags or closed containers. Large items with heavy mold
growth should be covered with polyethylene sheeting and sealed
with duct tape before being removed from the area. These materials
can usually be discarded as ordinary construction waste.
Remove and discard porous organic materials that have become
wet or are visibly contaminated (e.g., damp insulation in
ventilation system, moldy ceiling tiles, and mildewed carpets).
Again, these materials can usually be discarded as ordinary
Clean and disinfect nonporous surfaces where microbial growth
has occurred with detergents, chlorine-generating slimicides, or
other biocides and ensure that these cleaners have been removed
before air handling units are turned on. When you use a biocide or
disinfectant, use appropriate personal protective equipment. NIOSH-approved
respirators with the appropriate chemical cartridges are
recommended. Wear gloves and eye protection also.
For cleanup workers in rural and
Silos and other enclosed areas should be vented prior to
entry. However, this may not eliminate the problem entirely. If a
worker is transporting or working with moldy animal feed,
exposures are likely to be threatening if the feed and the worker
are enclosed in a barn, silo or other structure. Workers will
still need to wear respirators.
Workers uncapping a silo, shoveling grain, or working with
feed, especially in any enclosed space, should always wear at a
minimum a NIOSH-approved N-95 particulate respirator. Grain and
hay should be stored when fully dry.
For additional information concerning
fungi, health effects, and addressing flood damaged materials,
please see OSHA's Safety and Health Topics webpage on Molds and
Mold Victim Rights Association
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