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Common Damage Agents


Water damage is the most common problem after a disaster. It’s important to determine whether the water is (relatively) clean, dirty, salty or contaminated, because the type of water damage will affect how you handle and dry items. Note: If the water has been contaminated by hazardous materials, consult with a state health official or hazardous waste specialist.


When flooding results in mud damage, it is useful to determine the mud’s source, since its composition can affect safety and salvage procedures. There may be deposits of sand and salt from coastal flooding, or silt and clay from river flooding. Hidden in the mud may be broken or sharp objects, such as tools. Chemical or biological contamination is also a possibility. (If you suspect contamination, consult with a state health official or hazardous waste specialist.)


Where there’s water damage — even severe dampness — mold can develop within 48 hours. It grows fast when there’s high temperature and humidity plus lack of light and air circulation. Mold is a fungus that spreads by reproducing tiny airborne spores, and feeds on organic materials. (It can grow on plastics, too.) It is both a potential health hazard and a threat to your “A’s” (art, assets, and archives)— so work safely and as quickly as possible to confine a mold invasion.

Soot + Ash

Ash is very abrasive; soot is greasy and acidic, will adhere to every surface, and is harder to remove the longer it remains. For these reasons, do not directly touch the affected surface of items contaminated by soot and/or ash. Get them treated by a professional.


Metals can be corroded not only by water damage, but also by post-disaster high humidity in warm temperatures. Iron and steel are most susceptible to surface deterioration. Corrosion can be green, white, grey, brownish-black or rust-colored. It’s essential to keep corrosion-affected metal out of contact with other items.

miniicons5-97Lead corrosion is whitish and powdery. Make sure you wear protective gear, including a NIOSH-compliant respirator.