Review of health hazards and prevention measures for response and recovery workers and volunteers after natural disasters, flooding, and water damage: mold and dampness

Environ Health Prev Med. 2014 Mar;19(2):93-9. doi: 10.1007/s12199-013-0368-0. Epub 2013 Nov 20.


Health problems and illnesses encountered by unprotected workers, first-responders, home-owners, and volunteers in recovery and restoration of moldy indoor environments after hurricanes, typhoons, tropical storms, and flooding damage are a growing concern for healthcare providers and disaster medicine throughout the world. Damp building materials, particularly cellulose-containing substrates, are prone to fungal (mold) and bacterial infestation. During remediation and demolition work, the airborne concentrations of such microbes and their by-products can rise significantly and result in an exposure risk. Symptoms reported by unprotected workers and volunteers may relate to reactions of the airways, skin, mucous membranes, or internal organs. Dampness-related fungi are primarily associated with allergies, respiratory symptoms or diseases such as dermatitis, rhinosinusitis, bronchitis, and asthma, as well as changes of the immunological system. Also, cognitive, endocrine, or rheumatological changes have been reported. Based on the consensus among experts at a recent scientific conference and a literature review, it is generally recommended to avoid and minimize unnecessary fungal exposure and use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) in disaster response and recovery work. Mycologists recommend addressing any moisture or water intrusion rapidly, since significant mold growth can occur within 48 h. Systematic source removal, cleaning with "soap and water," and "bulk removal" followed by high-efficiency particulate air vacuuming is recommended in most cases; use of "biocides" should be avoided in occupied areas. Public health agencies recommend use of adequate respiratory, skin, and eye protection. Workers can be protected against these diseases by use of dust control measures and appropriate personal protective equipment. At a minimum, a facial dust mask such as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved N95 respirator should be used for mold remediation jobs. For any large-scale projects, trained remediation workers who have medical clearance and use proper personal protection (PPE) should be employed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disasters / prevention & control
  • Emergency Responders*
  • Environmental Health / standards*
  • Floods
  • Fungi*
  • Humans
  • Humidity* / adverse effects
  • Humidity* / prevention & control
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control*
  • Volunteers*