Mold spore levels in many parts of New Orleans are two to four times normal levels, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Despite government safety warnings, residents are being allowed back into parts of the city with unsafe mold contamination counts, according to NRDC. Many locals are complaining of runny noses, sore throats and a persistent cough.

Interviewed for the radio program, "Living on Earth," Dr. Gina Solomon, senior scientist for NRDC, which conducted independent mold measurements, and Dr. Dick Jackson, former head of the Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made these points:

  • Disturbingly high levels of mold have been found both outdoors and in. In areas that were not flooded or not as affected, mold counts were found to be normal for the Gulf Coast this time of year. Levels in flooded areas were two to four times higher, and they were at levels that would be considered a health risk for people with allergies or asthma. Indoor levels were "stunningly high," according to Solomon. "We had mold spore counts of 650,000 spores per cubic meter. The levels we found were 500 or more times the levels that would be of concern in your house or mine."

  • The zip codes that have been reopened for habitation include some of the ones that had the highest mold levels in NRDC's study. A lot of that mold is being disturbed; a lot of people are ripping out drywall and sheet rock and the mold is flying around in the air.

  • People in affected areas need to get rid of everything that can provide a home for mold. Unfortunately, that means throwing out all the furniture, ripping out the carpets, ripping out all the drywall, and basically cleaning out the home all the way down to the studs. The houses also need to be aired out thoroughly before the inside is rebuilt. When all of that work is done, Solomon anticipates that mold levels will come down.

  • People can become obsessed with the cleanup and oftentimes don't regard or worry enough about their own protection, said Jackson.