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Water Damage and Your Health

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From small appliance leaks to large-scale natural disasters, any type of water damage can jeopardize your health if you don’t deal with it immediately. Long-term water damage may lead to unpleasant odors, poor indoor air quality, toxic mold growth, and a host of other problems that make for unsanitary living and working conditions.

In this article, we’ll examine the most common kinds of water damage and how you can restore a healthy environment to your home or office if you happen to find yourself up an indoor creek without a paddle.

High Indoor Humidity

Certain indoor spaces, like basements and crawlspaces, often have high humidity levels. When indoor humidity is too high, moisture in the air will condense on surfaces in the form of water. Sometimes this water appears out of sight – behind walls or above ceiling tiles, for instance. This type of water damage is often difficult to detect, and it can easily lead to mold growth and structural damage. Indoor mold can cause allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems.

If you notice condensation on walls or windows, or if you smell a musty odor, then your indoor humidity is likely too high. You can reduce humidity levels and guard against hidden water damage and mold growth by running a dehumidifier. You should also place plastic vapor barriers on any open earth in crawlspaces or basements to prevent moisture build-up.

Water Damage in the Bathroom

Since so much water flows through the bathroom, it’s no surprise that this room typically endures the most water damage. Inspect your bathrooms frequently. Replace any missing grout as soon as possible to prevent mold growth in tile. Look for water stains or mold growth under sinks, behind toilets, on ceilings, and elsewhere. If you see signs of water damage but don’t have any leaks, it could be a humidity problem. A small dehumidifier for the bathroom will help. Be sure to always use your exhaust fans in the bathroom, as they will help to keep the humidity low, too.

Appliance Leaks – Clean Water Leaks

When a dishwasher, refrigerator, sink, or hot water heater springs a leak, don’t panic. (At least it's clean water!) But you must act fast to avoid serious water damage. First, shut off the water source, then clean and dry the area immediately. Mold begins to grow within 24-48 hours.

If the leak is substantial, you may need a high-capacity dehumidifier and/or air mover to help dry out the space. Also, before dealing with extreme leaks, you should first cut off the electricity at the breaker and remove all electrical appliances in the area.

If your carpet is soaked, you may be able to save it if you act fast, either by calling a water damage restoration service or by cleaning up the mess yourself. An extractor like the Phoenix Xtreme Xtractor will extract water from the carpet and the pad. However, you’ll need to replace your carpet pad if you cannot get it completely dry.

Plumbing Problems – Dirty Water Leaks

When your toilet overflows or your sump pump fails, foul-smelling, dirty water may flood part of your home or office. Again, you must work quickly to prevent water damage. Safety first: wear long pants and sleeves, rubber boots, gloves, goggles, and a respirator mask. Dry out the area as quickly as possible. To get rid of a large amount of standing water, you'll need to use a heavy-duty water pump. After the area is dry, be sure to clean and disinfect thoroughly to destroy fungi, bacteria, and viruses. You can use a disinfectant like Dri-Eaz Milgo QGC or a vapor steam cleaner.

Flooding and Black Water

Floodwater or black water is the most dangerous kind to have in your home. Floodwater may contain raw sewage, chemical waste, and all sorts of infectious microbes. Stay away from floodwater whenever possible. If you come into contact with it, immediately wash with soap and hot water.

If your home or office is flooded, remove the water and dampness as soon as possible. You may need to use water pumps, extractors, air movers, and dehumidifiers. If you cannot get started immediately, call for professional help. As with dirty water leaks, you'll want to wear protective gear and disinfect the area thoroughly after it's dry. Afterward, set up an air purifier to clean the air.

Floodwater is notorious for causing mold growth. Many people simply cannot clean up the water fast enough. Mold can damage building materials as well as respiratory systems. The infamous “Katrina cough“ popped up after widespread flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. Because of a high level of mold spores and other contaminants in the air, this respiratory illness spread rapidly among the residents of New Orleans.

If water damage is not dealt with immediately, mold spores may continue to haunt a building for years, causing allergic reactions, asthma, sinus congestion, and irritations of the eyes, nose, and throat. Mold has been implicated in several cases of “sick building syndrome.“ Mold spores can also lead to fungal infection, where the spores grow and multiply inside the body.

Toxic mold, or black mold, is another cause for concern. Some molds, such as Stachybotrys chartarum, produce toxins known as mycotoxins. Mycotoxins may cause an array of health problems and even death. Toxic mold often grows in flood-damaged areas that have not been properly cleaned and disinfected.

Be Prepared

It's much easier to deal with a flood when you're prepared. If you live in a flood-prone area, invest in water damage restoration equipment. After the fact, it may be too late to buy or rent the equipment you need to prevent water damage. It's also a good idea to buy flood insurance and develop an action plan. When you prepare for a flood, you have a much better chance of preventing costly water damage and associated illnesses.

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Still Have Questions?

For more information on specific products and ways to improve your indoor environment, shop our extensive product catalog and visit our Knowledge Center. Not sure what's best for you? We can take the guess work out of decision-making. Contact our product experts toll free at 1 (800) 934-9194 for a detailed consultation. Our goal is to make your indoor environment healthy and comfortable.

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