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Black mould an invisible threat growing behind walls of flood-affected homes

Saturday May 15, 2021 - 00:33 AEST
ABC image
Sarah Ellul in her dream bathroom. - ABC

Black mould is the latest threat for flood-affected homeowners, with the scale of the problem overwhelming volunteer crews.





The mould can cause serious health issues, but experts say many residents may not even be aware it's hidden behind the walls.


Paul Corben, director of the North Coast Public Health Unit, said the situation was a serious health threat for many residents, and warned of the dangers posed by mould if left untreated in people's homes. 


Two months after floods hit the Port Macquarie region, the clean-up continues with help from disaster relief organisation Samaritan's Purse. 


Volunteer Wayne Ritchings, who is managing the organisation's operations on the ground, said they had been working on some of the worst affected homes ? prioritising those where people had to remain living in them. 


"Most of the homes had been inundated which means most of their contents, their worldly goods are all basically destroyed," Mr Ritchings said. 


"So we're helping clean out that and then we're going through and stripping out their wall sheeting and sanitising anything that's left so that mould is totally gone." 


Mr Ritchings said the volunteers cut the wall sheeting 300 mm above the flood line, and carried out the treatment from there.


"If we don't strip out these homes and do the sanitisation that we've been doing, the mould that's in the wall cavities will continue to grow and it will turn into a major health hazard for a lot of these people," he said.


"It could lead to hospitalisation or even worse."


The volunteers have started work in the badly-hit caravan parks around Port Macquarie and North Haven.


However Mr Ritchings said they believed there were many more homes where the mould may not appear on the internal walls, instead posing an invisible threat behind the walls.


"I believe that the hundred or so work orders that we've got at the moment is nowhere near the volume of homes that need help." 


Garry and Linda Ruprecht, residents of the Brigadoon caravan park in North Haven, are ready to move back in after a few weeks staying with friends..


That followed a "very uncomfortable night" spent with some neighbours during the floods.


"We all were sitting on our dining chairs with our feet in the water because that was the only thing high enough to sit on. The lounges were wet, the beds were wet," she said. 


"We kept making cups of tea and coffee because we still had gas ? no electricity." 


After they were allowed to return home and started the cleanup, they'd heard about the work of the volunteers in the park. 


"We'd had the fans on since the flood and I thought it appeared it was drying out quite well, but we'd heard the Samaritans were around (looking for mould)," Mr Ruprecht said.


Mr Ritchings cut into their white gyprock and found black mould on the back of the wall and on the studs.


"We thought we were at the stage where we could just wash the walls, get the floor coverings down, get some new furniture and move in. But fortunately, we talked to Wayne from Samaritan's Purse and realise that we may have a bigger problem," Mrs Ruprecht said.


Some are doing the work themselves


Frank and Sarah Ellul, residents of the same caravan park, got on to the work of drying out their walls early.


Mr Ellul said they took their walls off a day or two after the waters receded. 


"So we jumped on it pretty quick and that stopped most of the mould," he said.


"We spent a lot of money in the bathroom, that's why I've ripped the walls out from the outside.


"This was our 'piece de resistance', the bathroom of all bathrooms, my dream bathroom," Ms Ellul said.


"This is why we went through the exterior of the van to access the mould so that we didn't have to cause as much damage on the inside."


Health risk


North Coast Health director Paul Corben said there was more risk to those who had allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions, but getting rid of the mould was advisable.


"In very rare circumstances some people can get a lung infection from mould and that can be very dangerous," he said.


"You need an exposure to get unwell so if the spores from the mould are circulating where people are then, yes, they?re at risk ? it?s a good idea to get rid of it if you can."


But he said ventilation was the key to reducing mould and prevention was always better than cure. 


"It can grow in wall cavities and particularly where a house has been flooded, it can be difficult to dry that out, so removing that material and replacing it is a good idea if you can afford that."


Volunteers


Wayne Ritchings, who travelled down from Brisbane, said there were 14 volunteers who had been brought in by Samaritan's Purse, and others from local church groups.


Yet more came of their own accord, from all over the country. 


"Some of the volunteers who have come to join them are a lot of single people, some with building skills and some without. But we can find something for anyone to do," he said.


"We're looking at bringing in YWAM, Youth With A Mission. Members of the Bruderhof society from Inverell are here now and will send their youth group down.


"We don't have an end date but sooner or later we're going to run out of volunteers," Mr Ritchings said.


"We're hoping that local people will pick up any remaining work."







- ABC

© ABC 2021

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