Hidden Post Hurricane Dangers Beyond Structural Damage
Naples, FL – Category 4 Hurricane Irma ripped across the Florida peninsula causing widespread damage and power outages. The Department of Homeland Security estimated that immediately after the storm over 15 million Floridian were without electricity. That is 3 out of 4 state residents were dark! Businesses, hospitals and schools have been closed due to a lack of power. In fact, over 35 hospitals across Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina were either forced evacuate or shut down. But the final statistics are far from tallied as it could be weeks until electricity is restored and the areas affected are properly assessed for post hurricane dangers.
One thing is certain, post hurricane dangers from building damage with water intrusion, flooding, and lack of operational HVAC, including temperature/humidity control poses health risks to building occupants when they return.
As interior dampness and humidity rise there are several environmental factors that can affect building heath. Even after a building structure has been physically recovered from water damage, occupant health issues can still linger. Though everything may appear visually restored, the interstitial side of a building’s structure might yet be teeming with chemical residue and/or microbial growth. Musty odors or discoloration of interior walls and other places are a primary indicator that microbial remediation is needed. If the discoloration is in multiple places, it is of even more concern as the interstitial sides could be 100 times greater than what is visibly seen.
Even if the building sustained no damage but was without power for an extended period, post hurricane dangers can still be ongoing. If the building’s HVAC system is down for time then temperature and humidity levels sharply rise creating an ideal ecosystem for mold growth. Once electricity is restored and the HVAC system is brought back online that mold, other hazardous microbes, and volatile organic compounds, as well as degraded fiberglass insulation can be distributed throughout the ductwork to the entire building. There is medical and scientific consensus that this situation poses a health risk to occupants.
Post hurricane dangers hidden from visual detection can include:
• Fungal/Mold Growth
• Bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Legionella, etc.
• Volatile Organic Compounds
Professional evaluation, testing, and laboratory analysis is often needed to better identify the extent of water related damage, ongoing environmental conditions, HVAC cleanliness and other post hurricane dangers that might be hiding in an affected building. Environmental air, bulk, liquid, and surface samples should be collected from the affected areas for bacterial, chemical, and mold laboratory analysis. The environmental test results are critical to determine the microbial/chemical propagation, as well as to facilitate remedial action or justify decision making for any remedial measures.
Hiring an indoor environmental test company to evaluate the ambient conditions of the structure, the HVAC system, interstitial wall cavities, the building’s envelope and more data points can determine the cause(s) of specific health concerns and provide the groundwork for remedial action.
Another option to get started finding post hurricane dangers in a building is economical DIY test kits. There are different types of kits available, such as the evalu air kit, that can be used to collect environmental samples for laboratory analysis. Microbial samples can be tested by using culture or non-culture based methods. If elevated levels microbes or VOCs are reported, then it is best to consult with an indoor environmental professional for a more comprehensive evaluation, analysis and remedial recommendations.
The Department of Homeland Security and FEMA issued a Major Disaster Declaration on September 10, 2017 for the state of Florida. DHS acting director Elaine Duke stated nearly 22,000 federal personnel are in Florida to assist in the recovery.
Sanjeev Hansraj Seenath