After Hurricane Ian struck Florida in September, many residents found themselves grappling with wind and water damage to their homes. But for many, the biggest headache would come weeks later, in the form of difficult-to-eradicate mold.
Robert Maglievaz, an environmental administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County, told Earther that, even if mold wasn’t visible in some homes soon after the hurricane, residents should assume it’s there. This is especially true for any home that was partially flooded. “When it looks like you’re seeing blistering paint, a lot of that mold will grow behind the paint,” he said. According to Maglievaz, if surfaces that had mold scrubbed off were not almost entirely dry, the spores would have taken root and spread all over again.
The Department of Health in Volusia County issued a press release in early October with advice for residents working to stop the spread in their communities. This included throwing out anything that was in floodwater and that people could not completely dry out. Residents were also advised to remove as much mold as they could instead of painting over the spots. “Failure to control moisture and mold can present short and long-term health risks,” the department warned.
Florida homeowner Bill Doyle told ABC Action News in November that he didn’t know how bad the mold damage in his home was until he peeled up tiles and saw green spores spreading under flooring. “I was in denial. I didn’t think I had mold like that,” he said.
Mold can show up as a stain or a fuzzy growth on furniture and building materials like drywall, wood, and paper, expains a guide from the Florida Health Department. If those materials were waterlogged, the mold can take root and spread throughout the house within the first week after a storm. It may appear harmless at first, but mold can “digest organic material, eventually destroying the material they grow on,” says a FEMA mold guide.
Mold doesn’t just destroy housing material; it may also be a health risk, especially for people weaker immune systems or who are particularly allergic to mold. Maglievaz said that the Florida Health Department doesn’t track individual illnesses that may be linked to mold outbreaks, but he has anecdotally heard about people feeling cold-like symptoms after mold exposure. “[Mold] causes an inflammatory response in the body. You’re going to get an allergy or asthma trigger,” Maglievaz said. “That’s consistently been what I hear when people call in and they say [that] their house is flooded.”
People exposed to mold who may be sensitive often complain of eye and throat irritation. They’ll also feel stuffy as if they have a cold, according to a CDC mold guide.
Many home insurance policies don’t cover mold. A homeowner would have to purchase a separate flood insurance that will cover those damages, Investopedia reported. An October report from the New York Times outlined that mold remediation can be expensive. In some places, mold damage coverage is capped. In Florida for example, some insurances only cover up to $10,000 worth of damage, the New York Times reported.
Mold is fueled by more intense rainfall, higher temperatures, and flooding—all of which are more likely to happen under climate change. Other communities slammed with bad storms in recent years have also struggled to control mold outbreaks. Hurricane Ida brought flash flooding and record rainfall to New York City in 2021, inundating basements and first-floor apartments. Mold specialists were swarmed with calls from worried city residents at the time, Curbed reported.
Maglievaz said this year’s hurricane season should be a lesson that storm preparation and recovery must include more planning for mold, including looking up remediation professionals ahead of time and having gloves and masks for protection during cleanup. “Just assume that it’s there, assume it’s a threat to your health,” he said.