Measuring mold in flooded homes after Hurricane Harvey

By Mario Diaz

HOUSTON - In the last year, Jacob Cohn and his Louisiana-based team have remediated more than 3,000 homes.

When Channel 2 Investigates recently asked him if he believes people in Houston and the surrounding area have a true grasp of the mold that right now has infiltrated their homes, Cohn offered up a response in five words, “I don't think they do."

It was a powerful statement from someone who understands the toxic grip that mold can have on a home.

It comes during a time when some homeowners like Shauna French are drying out old memories while being deluged with new ones. She recently provided a tour to her family’s home while it was being dried out and torn down on the inside. French at one point opened up some kitchen cabinets and simply said, "There is no telling what is in that water right there."

Dr. Winifred Hamilton has a pretty good idea, "We've got cadmium there, we've got silver, we've got chromium, we've got lead, we've got arsenic."

Hamilton is the director of the Environmental Health Service at the Baylor College of Medicine. She and other researchers conducted field tests in Harvey floodwaters that revealed levels of metals and bacteria 20 times higher indoors than outdoors. "The sediments levels we have tested so far do have elevated levels, but they are more elevated inside the home than they are outside right now," she said.

So are some homes on the inside like a mini-toxic dump?

“Oh it is, it is absolutely. We don't see these kinds of levels unnaturally,” said Hamilton in recent interview.

The current conditions have been a contributing factor to the various strains of mold which have been much more aggressive in Houston than say for example in New York and New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Hamilton says the images have raised eyebrows, "We've seen horrific pictures of mold."

In Meyerland, we came across David Li-Kroeger, a biologist who admits, “I know about mold." He also knows about extensive remediation, as we connected with him in the midst of his home getting prepped for drying out. Li-Kroeger admits there is probably no way he will completely escape mold's wrath, "You'll never get all the mold out of anything. The goal is to get it down low enough where it is not a significant health threat."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says mold, including stachybotrys or black mold contributes to skin, throat and eye irritations as well as serious lung illnesses, like asthma. Hamilton tells Channel 2 Investigates that for others it can be more severe, "People with compromised immune systems can actually develop some fungal or mold growth within their body."

From his perspective, Cohn says he is concerned with those homeowners who do not realize they are cutting corners during the rebuilding process, “Some people are just using their hand and they are saying, 'oh to the touch, I think my wood is dry.' You need someone with a good moisture meter that is doing moisture logs and testing of the wood."

He also adds that anything higher than 16 percent means a home is still susceptible to mold, “I don't want to see anyone gut their house a second time, have to get treated for mold a second time, I don't want to see anyone go to the hospital or anyone's kids go to the hospitals or elderly people go to the hospital because there is mold and it is better to do it right the first time."

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