Climate Change Is Causing a Stinking Mess in the South — Mold

The amount of rainfall and the number of severe storms that have hit the Southeastern U.S. are causing a lingering, stinking problem —  mold. The State’s Sammy Fretwell reports that researchers who studied the explosion of mold that occurred in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago now see the same thing happening throughout South Carolina after five years of excessive rain and numerous hurricanes. The lead researcher explains, “the conditions that foster the growth of mold get worse in any part of the country facing this for longer parts of the year. Those things are much more likely with climate change.’’ And the same is true in nearby North Carolina — this past weekend the Army had to move hundreds of soldiers out of their barracks at Fort Bragg due to severe mold contamination.

Why This Matters:  Mold caused by one storm is awful, but when it is caused by repeated storms and lingering moisture under floors and in walls, there is no easy fix.  And its health effects are severe — allergies, coughing, wheezing, headaches, and asthma are just a few of the problems linked to indoor mold exposure.  It also exacerbates COVID-19.  FEMA’s federal disaster relief covers damage from a severe storm or major flood but does not cover mold that is the result of habitual rain and minor flooding.  

Poor Communities Suffer From More Mold

In Marion County South Carolina, (population of 31,000) the median household income is $33,000, which is only half the national average and it has a poverty rate of 25 percent, compared to the state poverty rate of 14 percent and the national rate of 10.5 percent. The town of Sellers in Marion County is 80% Black and sits in a naturally low-lying area where a canal and drainage ditches overflow during heavy rains. Many homes sit low to the ground, with little elevation, making it easy for floodwaters to get inside and mold to form. Residents of Sellers are poor and now live in homes that are full of mold until they have no choice but to abandon them.  “As with everything else, poor people have it worse,’’ mold researcher Joan Bennett of Rutgers University told The State. Some “already have a bad diet, bad housing, and no health insurance. And then they’ve got a moldy house and they have to live there.’’ Repairs run into the tens of thousands to replace moldy drywall, floors, and carpets.

No Federal Aid For Excessive Rain

Climate change impacts don’t just happen on the coast.  Big storms are inundating the Carolinas, hovering over inland areas and dropping record rainfall — nearly four feet of rain this year in the interior coastal plain of South Carolina.  For poor residents, there are two challenges to receiving federal aid.  First, FEMA is reluctant to provide money to help repair homes after hurricanes for people who can’t show a clear title. Second, FEMA also does not often provide money to clean up mold in storm-damaged homes.  The State reported that a FEMA spokesperson explained, “Because mold removal is considered mitigation, FEMA individual assistance does not provide money to individuals for mold removal.’’  The mold issue could get worse as climate change impacts increase.  Researchers at the University of South Carolina have found that substantial flooding is a growing threat all along the East Coast, not just in the Carolinas.

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