The community was invited to a public forum June 20 to inform Mouse River Basin residents of the area's environmental health one year after the 2011 Mouse River flood. The forum began at 6:30 p.m. in Cyril Moore Hall's Hoffman Auditorium on the Minot State University campus. It was sponsored by MSU's Great Plains Center for Community Research and Service and the First District Health Unit.
A panel of experts addressed concerns regarding mold and its effect on health, houses that have not been sanitized, the effect of the flood on trees, and concerns regarding soil and water quality.
Mikhail Bobylev, chemistry professor at MSU, presented research conducted on mold sampling in flooded homes, including identification and complications of the types of mold found. He said he and his research team took mold samples from flooded houses one year after the flood and after the houses had been cleaned out. They found that molds were growing all over. They touched the surface with a cotton swab, brought it back to the lab, and allowed it to grow, explained Bobylev. White, black, green, and brown molds were grown from the samples. After that, the research team sent the samples to Michigan for identification, Bobylev said. Green mold affects people the most, he noted, with brown and white next in line. In one house, four different types of mold could be found, Bobylev said.
A medical perspective on the consequences of mold, including symptoms, treatment, and precautionary measures was presented by Dr. Jeffery Verhey, pulmonologist from Trinity Health. Mold is a fungus, he said, is found virtually everywhere, and feeds on dead organic matter but infect living organisms. Mold spreads through the release of spores, Verhey explained, and spores are microscopic and easily airborne. They also need a relative humidity of 65 percent and temperatures from 50 to 90 degrees to germinate. The presence of molds indoors is a result of an invasion from outdoor sources. Mold is detected by smell, sight, and culture, Verhey continued, and the culture will determine which species are present. He also said "black mold" can be from a variety of species.
The health effects of molds include infection, exposure to toxins, allergies, and asthma, Verhey said. "Some fungi can infect healthy people and people who are immunocompromised are at highest risk of infection," he explained. Those people would include cancer patients, people with HIV, and people who are diabetic, Verhey said. The presence of molds does not indicate the presence of toxins, though, he added. People with allergies and asthma are prone to health effects of mold, too, Verhey said. Asthmatics need to be very cautious when working with mold and exposure to mold can exacerbate allergies, he also said. Molds can be an irritant to the nasal passages and cause post nasal drip.
Some precautions people can take when working in houses that have been flooded are to remember that ventilation is key, remove the contaminated material in the flooded house, and moisture is the enemy, Verhey said. He also said to protect yourself, like wear protective gear such as a mask and goggles. Wear a mask of the N95 type, remove work clothes and wash them promptly, Verhey continued. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It's a trite saying, but it's true," he noted.
Bob Underwood, retired professor from Dakota College at Bottineau, addressed the status of trees and shrubs and what citizens can expect in the next year or two. He also discussed soil quality issues that exist in the flooded areas and what citizens can do. Trees, grass, and soils have been well ventilated with the wind, he started. The smaller trees took a hard hit from the flood and most of the chokecherry and ash trees died in the flood, Underwood said. There's a study being done by the NDSU Extension office in areas that aren't urban to find out what happened, he added.
The trees in Oak Park are designed to be regularly flooded, Underwood remarked, and a lot of them in the park have been flooded before. He said there would probably be slow growth seen in the years to come, which is a long term effect from the flood. Spruce trees will have it rough, Underwood added, while honey locust trees came out surprisingly well in the flood. Not a lot of trees fell down during the flood, he said, because most of the roots were deep enough to hold the trees upright.
There were more silt deposits found in Roosevelt Park and Eastwood Park, Underwood noted, because the river was more winding in that area and there were more dikes for the water to wash across.
The flood would actually correct some problems as well, Underwood said. The flood will correct soils with high acid levels, it will correct phosphorescent deficiencies, and how well the soil holds on to nutrients, he explained. The flood will also solve water stress problems and weed problems will improve, Underwood added. The weight of the water during the flood did not affect the soil, he noted.
"If you want someone to look at a tree on your property, call the forestry department and Brian Johnson or I will come look at it," Underwood said.
Jim Heckman, director of environmental health at First District Health Unit, discussed the efforts made to identify flooded structures that have not been cleaned out or repaired. He also informed people of the process that will be used to notify owners of their responsibilities and timelines for remediation. Heckman said they have written demolition orders on about 105 homes in Minot and are working with the Minot Area Community Foundation to find out who will and will not be returning. They're going door to door, he explained, and are almost at the point of writing letters for people to inform the health unit what they're planning on doing. They have 15 days to let the health unit know, Heckman noted. There are a little more than 250 homes that are not being acted on.
The audience had opportunities to ask questions after each presentation. The forum was fee and open to the public.