Isabel: The Aftermath: Health

Learning Activity

Aired September 29, 2003

As Hurricane Isabel's victims in Virginia queue up for reconstruction supplies, they could be facing health dangers that lie within the same walls they're trying to repair. Christy Feig sheds some light on an unseen threat. Classify various microorganisms and learn how to safegaurd your home from any dangers they may pose.

Generate a discussion about microorganisms and have students identify the microorganisms referred to in the story. Remind students that microorganisms are living things that are so small they can only be seen with a microscope, and that various types of microorganisms can help us in our everyday lives while others can cause structural damage to buildings or make us sick.

After the discussion, divide the class into groups and assign each group one of the following microorganisms to research: molds, yeasts, viruses or bacteria. Have each group create a table using the following topics as column headers:

• Physical characteristics

• Reproductive cycle

• Environment required for growth

• Possible beneficial effects

• Possible detrimental effects

Refer groups to their textbooks and other resources to investigate their microorganism and find the information to complete the their tables. As each group presents its findings to the class, have each student take notes to complete their own table for all four categories of microorganisms.

After the presentations, discuss the problems that water damage from Hurricane Isabel has caused. Ask: In what areas of a building can molds and bacteria grow after water damage occurs? Why do absorbent or porous materials provide a favorable environment for molds or bacteria to grow? What effects do temperature or sunlight have on the growth process of many molds and bacteria? What are the hazards associated with standing water?


• Mold exposure external link

Challenge each student to assess his/her own home to find potential risks associated with these microorganisms. Have students write reports describing the results of their assessments. Direct students to provide specific information on how they can safeguard their homes, food and bodies (personal hygiene) against any potential dangers posed by the growth of microorganisms.

Correlated Standards

National Science Education Standards


As a result of activities in grades 5-8 all students should develop an understanding of:

• Structure and function in living systems

• Reproduction

• Diversity and adaptations of organisms


As a result of activities in grades 5-8 all students should develop an understanding of:

• Personal health

• Natural hazards

• Risks and benefits

The National Science Education Standards ( are published by the National Academies Press (

Related Links Cleaning up Isabel's mess no small chore (

Centers for Disease Control: Mold (

Mold Allergies (

Fungi in Buildings (

Is Indoor Mold Contamination a Threat to Health? (

Mayo Clinic: Mold exposure (


bacteria, virus, mold, yeast, microorganism, water damage, environmental hazards

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