When the accumulation of clutter has compromised the functionality of a home, there’s a strong likelihood that one or more people living there suffers from compulsive hoarding. Hoarding is an anxiety disorder that affects approximately one million people in the United States, varying in degrees from mild to severe. Left unchecked, people suffering from compulsive hoarding can create a life-threatening living situations for themselves and family members.
Hoarders collect all manner of possessions, and for many reasons. Some fixate on certain types of belongings – clothing, books, household supplies. For others, foodstuffs – perishable and non-perishable are stocked away at untenable degrees. Some even hoard animals, living in homes crawling with stray dogs and feral cats, who they consider to be rescues. In the worst of cases, it’s a combination of some or all of the above, with every kind of clutter and debris piled atop another.
While treatment for the underlying psychological issues is critical, so too is addressing the immediate safe clearing and cleaning of the hoarding site.
Within the piles of debris can lurk many kinds of dangerous biohazards. Untended pets leave behind feces and urine, and if in poor health may be carrying fleas or other conditions. Rotting food and decaying meat and produce are themselves a health hazard, in addition to the rodents and vermin they attract. Infestations – maggots, mice, rats, roaches and more – are common in hoarding situations.
Neglected hoarding properties typically include failing systems, like leaking pipes, failing plumbing, and unmaintained HVAC systems. Water damage and sitting moisture breed mold infestations in walls, floors and air systems. Built up dirt and other airborne pollutants contaminate the length of HVAC systems, including air ducts, heat exchangers, blowers, coils and filters.
Safely Cleaning Hoarding
If there is any indication that the property has become unsanitary or unsafe, proper handling of the debris should follow biohazardous waste removal protocols. The very act of removing the waste creates additional danger as contaminants go airborne. Every item removed that is to be saved needs to be carefully inspected, cleaned and decontaminated. All that is to be discarded needs to be handled according to state and local biohazardous waste guidelines, not just thrown in a dumpster. Once the property is cleared, the area needs to be cleaned, disinfected and deodorized with biological decontaminants. Mold infestations must be eliminated to prevent future growth, and HVAC systems must be inspected and cleaned. Then, repairs and any reconstruction efforts can begin.
Properly mitigating and decontaminating a hoarding property requires professional equipment and training. A Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) can provide the necessary expertise to guide qualified technicians to safely and efficiently return the property to safe, habitable condition.
ICT: First in Infection Control and Biological Decontamination. Infection Control Technologies, (ICT) a division of Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. (IRS) is one of the nation’s leading Building Hygiene contractors. ICT provides Facility Hygiene Services and Emergency Decontamination for some of the nation’s most respected real estate and Risk Management Professionals, Health Care, Municipalities, Institutions, Food Safety, Transportation, and government organizations.