How mold after a hurricane can destroy your health

By: Lee Ann Billings

Are you or a loved one in a mold high-risk group and don’t know it?

In post-disaster areas, one thing you can always count on is a lot of chaos, and in times of chaotic turmoil, people are in survival mode for days and weeks, if not months. Successfully surviving a natural disaster includes not just getting through the initial disaster itself and the immediate aftermath—but it also means suffering no long-term health effects from toxic mold exposures.

A pound of prevention is worth your health

Having been ill from toxic mold and chemical exposures from Hurricane Katrina, I now herald the message of exposure prevention. Having fully recovered from the resultant mold- and chemical-related illnesses, I speak from hard-earned experience. It is much easier to take steps to avoid exposures to floodwaters and water-damaged building materials that could potentially harm health than it is to recover once exposures to this complex environment have already negatively impacted health. 

It may not seem like it at the time when you are in the middle of dealing with the fallout from a natural disaster, but taking precautions to avoid toxic exposures is worth every bit of short-term inconvenience it will cost you. Taking appropriate preventative steps can literally be health-preserving and even lifesaving, not to mention being less expensive in the long run. 

Top tips from 20/20 hindsight

Until you have become ill from mold and toxic exposures, it is hard to understand how quickly it can happen and how difficult it is to treat. If you suspect you may already be suffering from past mold exposure, discuss the treatment options detailed in my book MOLD: The War Within with your doctor. Our naturopath altered our diet and prescribed natural treatment options after pharmaceutical options made us worse. There were several different natural treatment components (some foods and some supplements), including raw noni juice, which is an antioxidant-rich health food supplement. For more information on pasteurized and raw noni juice, read the two articles “Why binders can hold back healing” and “Noni (raw): fresh from their farm to your ‘fridge”.

What happened to my family and me doesn’t have to happen to you and your family. Let the knowledge we learned the hard way benefit you the easy way.  

Public health alert: mold high-risk groups

My first word of warning goes out to people the CDC considers at high risk when it comes to mold and chemical exposures. Do not return to the disaster area until your living, work, and school environments are confirmed to be in good condition—and free of water damage, mold, and toxins.

The CDC’s high-risk groups for mold include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Infants and children
  • Elderly people
  • Pregnant women
  • People with respiratory conditions, such as allergies or asthma
  • People who are immune-compromised or who have weakened immune systems
  • People who have undergone recent major surgeries
  • People who take immune-suppressing medication, including oral or nasal steroids

Public health warning: healthy people

My second word of caution goes out to everyone else—individuals not in a mold high-risk group. Just because you do not fall into one of the CDC’s high-risk groups does not mean mold, mycotoxins (mold poisons), bacteria, and other disaster area toxins will not negatively affect your health.


Steps to minimize risk from mold exposure  

  • Wear proper personal protection equipment (PPE) when in a wet or moldy building and an outdoor area with elevated levels of airborne debris. Understand that tear-out and remediation activities increase the level of mold, mycotoxins, bacteria, and bacterial poisons in the air. PPE includes masks (minimally an N95, but an N100 is better), gloves, goggles, and disposable coveralls. 
  • Remove personal belongings and building materials that have become wet before they become moldy, if possible. Also, keep your eye on the clock. Structural mold will start developing within the first 24-48 hours. 
  • Dry the structure out with fans and dehumidifiers, if possible. Oftentimes, power is out after a natural disaster, which is the catalyst to mold growth.
  • Call a certified mold remediator (CMR). CMRs are professionally trained and have the proper equipment, PPE, and team to address hurricane-size structural mold damage.  

Mold professional near me

Depending on your state, a mold professional may be required to be certified and licensed. However, after natural disasters, states often defer the mold certification and license to allow mold workers from other states to come into the area to help meet the increased demand for mold professionals. The problem is that many pickup truck remediators flock to disaster areas to take advantage of distressed homeowners who are not savvy and fall prey to slick-talking nefarious remediators who spew empty promises at hurricane-traumatized residents.

To locate reputable mold professionals, take the time to check for licensing and certifications. The below two trade groups are respected industry organizations that provide location-searchable databases on their website. Some mold professionals will have various certifications from both of these leading trade group organizations.

  • The National Organization of Remediators and Microbial Inspectors (NORMI) provides up-to-date information on the certification and licensing status of its members at, searchable by location.
  • The IICRC offers a location-searchable database at IICRC Global Locator

More info on mold and treatment options

For more information on structural mold, the health effects of mold and mycotoxins, and treatment options to discuss with your doctor, please see my book MOLD: The War Within. It will give you hope for a full recovery.

The book contains the treatment components that ultimately restored my family’s health, both adults and children, as well as the treatment components that did not work for us. I detailed the trial-and-error phase of our recovery journey so other mold victims could discuss the treatment options with their doctors, as everyone has different health histories, genetics, and exposure histories. What may work for one person may not work for another person, which is what can make recovery from mold-related illnesses challenging. However, being aware of the pros and cons of various mold treatment options that others experienced may help expand discussions with your doctor and help identify which components may work best for you.

Copyright 2023 Partners Publishing LLC

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