Sunday, October 16, 2016

Environmental Hazards May Await Those Returning to Flooded Homes

Oct 16, 2016

State environmental health experts are cautioning residents affected by the floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew to exercise extreme caution when reentering their homes. Hazards include electrical, wildlife, mold, sewage and contaminated food.

Before reentering a flood-damaged home, ensure that areas in and around the home are safe. If your tetanus protection is not up-to-date, get a tetanus booster. Downed power lines and other electrical hazards may exist. NEVER handle a downed power line. Instead, contact the local utility company immediately. In addition, check for structural damage and do not enter if support columns are damaged or other structural components appear to be compromised.

If you are able to enter your home, wear personal protective equipment such as rubber boots, gloves, eye protection and N95 respirators.

When You First Reenter Your Home

  • If you have standing water in your home and can turn off the main power from a dry location, turn off the power, even if it delays cleaning. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, call an electrician to turn the power off. NEVER turn power on or off yourself or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
  • Have an electrician check the house’s electrical system before turning the power back on.
  • If your home has been vacant for several days:
    • Enter briefly to open doors and windows and let air circulate for at least 30 minutes before starting cleanup.
    • Presume your home has been contaminated with mold. See:  Protect Yourself from Mold.
  • If your home has been flooded, it also may be contaminated with sewage. See Flood Water After a Disaster or Emergency.
  • Watch for animals, especially snakes. Flooding may have forced them from their homes and they may seek shelter in yours.

Drying Out Your House

If flood or storm water has entered your home, dry it out as soon as possible. Follow these steps:

  • If you have electricity and an electrician has determined that it’s safe to turn it on, use a “wet-dry” shop vacuum (or the vacuum function of a carpet steam cleaner), an electric-powered water transfer pump or sump pump to remove standing water. If you are operating equipment in wet areas, be sure to wear rubber boots.
  • If you do not have electricity or it is not safe to turn it on, you can use a portable generator to power equipment to remove standing water. It is recommended to contact the local utility prior to connecting generators to avoid hazards to line workers who are trying to restore permanent power. Note: If you must use a gasoline-powered pump, generator, pressure washer or any other gasoline-powered tools to clean your home, never operate the gasoline engine inside a home, basement, garage, carport, porch, or other enclosed or partially enclosed structures, even if the windows and doors are open. Such improper use can create dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide and cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • If weather permits, open windows and doors to aid in the drying out process.
  • Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove excess moisture. Fans should be placed at a window or door to blow the air outwards rather than inwards to prevent the spread of mold.
  • Have your home heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system checked and cleaned by a maintenance or service professional who is experienced in mold clean-up before you turn it on.
    • If the HVAC system was flooded with water, turning on the mold-contaminated HVAC will spread mold throughout the house. Professional cleaning will kill the mold and prevent later mold growth.
    • When the service determines that your system is clean and if it is safe to do so, you can turn it on and use it to help remove excess moisture from your home.
  • Prevent water outdoors from reentering your home. For example, rain water from gutters or the roof should drain away from the house; the ground around the house should slope away from the house to keep basements and crawl spaces dry.
  • Ensure that crawl spaces in basements have proper drainage to limit water seepage. Ventilate to allow the area to dry out.
  • Remove and discard items that cannot be cleaned and disinfected, including mattresses, carpets, rugs, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows and paper products.
  • Remove and discard drywall and insulation contaminated with sewage and floodwaters.
  • Consider all floodwaters to be contaminated. Any food that has been in contact with floodwater should be disposed.
  • If power is out for more than four hours, it is recommended to dispose of foods requiring refrigeration. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • If your home is served by a septic system, do not allow vehicular traffic over system components as recovery efforts proceed since damage may occur during debris removal.
  • If septic system components, such as tanks and trenches, are exposed or damaged, notify your local health department and limit access of the area to pets and children. In addition, don’t let children play in floodwater.
  • If you have a private well, once floodwaters recede, run the floodwater out of the well (not through the house plumbing) until it clears.
    • Disinfect the well and the house plumbing according to guidance available from the local health department. 
    • Once disinfection is complete, have the well sampled by the local health department to confirm that it is safe to drink.
  • Frequently wash hands with warm, soapy, potable water, especially before eating.