It’s ironic that we need water to live, and yet it’s also water that can lead to unhealthy, even deadly, consequences when water damage is not properly remediated. Even clean water that floods a home can quickly become nasty and laden with live bacteria. Examples of clean water might include a dishwasher that leaks, a washing machine that leaks, or perhaps an icemaker line that’s been left to leak and has been unnoticed since homeowners have been away.
Slowly, quietly, lazily, the water has migrated – across the tile floor and toward the carpet. But it didn’t go around the walls. The water didn’t skirt the perimeter of the room, simply hugging the edges of the walls. No, the water continued to run under the baseboards, past the drywall, through the walls, into the studs, through the other side of the wall and into the opposite room. Depending on how much water leaked, it might have seeped through yet another room, into the cabinets, the woodwork, the door casings, and the wood flooring in the next room. Water seeks the lowest point. It won’t stop moving as long as there is the slightest decline.
Even if you try and clean up the water on the floors of the various rooms, the damage has already been done. You may sop up the water that you can see in the main rooms; but what you can’t see – what it’s impossible to see – is the water behind the baseboards, inside the walls, closed up and in the warm, stagnant dark recesses. This environment is the perfect enclosed Petri dish, the optimum growing space for harmful bacteria.
Left untended, even a simple water damage issue can quickly become a mold issue. Aspergillus and Penicillum molds are often found following water leaks. This is because these molds require cellulose food sources – such as drywall – to live, multiply, and thrive. Many people begin to experience health issues like sore throats, coughing, itchy eyes, sneezing, and irritated skin even before they see evidence of mold in their home. Persons with compromised immune systems are especially sensitive to these symptoms.
In addition to mold, parasites can also begin to live where there has been stagnant water. Parasites like Entamoeba, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia can be found on the surface of stagnant water, even clean water, but they’re more commonly found in gray water or black water (sewage).
Bacterial viruses also begin to breed in stagnant water hidden behind walls and baseboards. Rotaviruses and the Norwalk virus, with their miserable gastrointestinal distress symptoms, pose serious health threats.
Damp building materials, like drywall and baseboards, must frequently be replaced. Special drying equipment must be set up, monitored, and the results intermittently recorded, to ensure that proper structural drying takes place. The EPA recommends that any mold contamination covering an area greater than 10-square-feet be remediated by licensed professionals in order to properly contain, handle, and dispose of, the mold spores without further spreading them into the structure.
It is always best to contact a licensed professional to assess suspected mold infestation; and it’s never advisable to remove mold on your own as the mold spores will be released into the environment, causing further contamination. If water has flooded, or even leaked into a home or building, the greatest areas of concern are not the ones you can see, but those you can’t see.