Mold has attacked what remains of New Orleans, engulfing the city in slime. Typically, clean indoor environments show mold spore concentrations of less than 1,000 per cubic meter of air. But in Katrina’s wake, the numbers have hit several million due to widespread, persistent flooding.
That’s the preliminary report from Christine Rogers, a senior research scientist in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health. In September, Rogers led a hands-on investigation of mold contamination so extensive that the health hazards are unknown.
“Our fear was that city residents returning home might experience massive exposures, simply by retrieving belongings and doing minor cleanups,” she says.
Tapped by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Center at Harvard to come up with recommendations as part of a national NIEHS working group, Rogers had searched the literature. But she could find no data applicable to the situation in New Orleans, where water has stood motionless in closed-up buildings, several feet deep, for weeks.
What Rogers’ team found amazed them: Wall-to-wall mold colonies. “It was biological warfare, with all these fungi fighting for space,” Rogers says.