June 26, 2006
In the last year heavy
rains, hurricanes, and flash floods have touched much of the country.
As this is being written, the Eastern United States is being hit
with record rains that are causing life-altering floods. As those
who have gone through this before have already experienced: the
rain will stop, the flood waters will recede, and life will return
Unfortunately, before "normal"
there is cleanup.
"Storm and flood cleanup
activities can be hazardous. Workers and volunteers involved with
flood cleanup should be aware of the potential dangers involved,
and the proper safety precautions. Work-related hazards that could
be encountered include: electrical hazards, Carbon Monoxide, musculoskeletal
hazards, heat stress, motor vehicles, hazardous materials, fire,
confined spaces and falls. ..." http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/flood/
Whether you are cleaning
out your own home, the home of a loved one, or volunteering to help
a stranger in need, it is easier to avoid (and prepare for) possible
hazards if you know what to expect.
"The National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides the following
interim guidelines and warnings to flood cleanup workers. The hazards
in flood waters are likely variable and can include sewage, household
chemicals and cleaning solutions, petroleum products, hazardous
industrial chemicals, pesticides, and flammable liquids. Workers
must also be aware of dangers from physical hazards such as obstacles
covered by flood waters (storm debris, depressions, drainage openings,
ground erosion) and from displaced reptiles or other animals."
Knowing what to avoid is
one thing. Knowing what to do (or even where to start) is another.
"* Flooded homes should
be thoroughly dried out, a process that may take several days or
* Wet carpet and padding should be removed and discarded.
* Porous materials -- those that absorb water -- such as sheetrock,
some paneling, fiberglass insulation, cellulose insulation, mattresses,
pillows, wallpaper and upholstered furniture should be discarded.
* Sheetrock and other porous wallboards should be removed to at
least 12 inches above the water line. Check for wicking, the upward
movement of moisture to higher levels.
* Clean wall studs where wallboard has been removed and allow them
to dry completely.
* Floors, concrete or brick walls, countertops, plastic, glass and
other non-porous materials should be washed with soap and water
and then with a solution of one to two cups of chlorine bleach to
a gallon of water and allowed to completely dry. ..." http://www.tdh.state.tx.us/beh/IAQ/Mld_Cln_702.htm
While working to clean
and dry out a home it is important to think about the water... but
don't forget the air.
"During a flood cleanup,
the indoor air quality in your home or office may appear to be the
least of your problems. However, failure to remove contaminated
materials and to reduce moisture and humidity can present serious
long-term health risks. ... Standing water is a breeding ground
for microorganisms, which can become airborne and be inhaled. Where
floodwater contains sewage or decaying animal carcasses, infectious
disease is of concern. Even when flooding is due to rain water,
the growth of microorganisms can cause allergic reactions in sensitive
individuals. For these health reasons, and to lessen structural
damage, all standing water should be removed as quickly as possible."
The water is out. The house
is clean and dry. What about all that was in the home? How can you
know what can be saved and what can't? Let's use the kitchen as
"Food contact surfaces
* Discard wooden cutting boards, wooden dishes and utensils, plastic
utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers that have come into
contact with flood water. These items cannot be safely cleaned.
* Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils (including
can openers) with soap and water, using hot water if available.
Rinse, and then sanitize them by boiling in clean water or immersing
them for 15 min. in a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid
chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest
* Thoroughly wash countertops with soap and water, using hot water
if available. Rinse, and then sanitize by applying a solution of
1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of
drinking water (or the cleanest, clearest water available). Allow
to air dry.
* Make sure to carefully clean corners, cracks and crevices, door
handles, and door seals, in rooms that have been affected by flood
Now that you have clean
surfaces, what about the food?
"* Do not eat any
food that may have come into contact with flood water. If in doubt,
throw it out.
* Do not eat food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard, cloth, and
similar containers that have been water damaged.
* Discard food and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids,
crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops, and home canned
foods, if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers
cannot be disinfected.
* Undamaged, commercially-prepared foods in all-metal cans or retort
pouches can be saved if you remove the labels, thoroughly wash the
cans, rinse them, and then disinfect them with a sanitizing solution
consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of potable water.
Finally, re-label containers that had the labels removed, including
the expiration date, with a marker."
Not only can it be difficult
to find and/or sanitize acceptable water for cleaning, finding safe
drinking water can be even more of a challenge.
if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate the
public water supply. ... Area Health Departments will determine
whether the tap water is potable, i.e., can be used for drinking.
If the water is not potable or is questionable and bottled water
is not available, then follow these directions to purify it:
1. Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if
it is available.
2. If you don't have bottled water, you should boil water to make
it safe. ...
3. If you can't boil water, you can disinfect it using household
4. If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be
tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. ..."
(Please see the above site for more specific details about the purification
No matter what the circumstance,
before you drive off to volunteer in a flood ravaged area, or tackle
the job in your own home: it is important that you are properly
prepared and properly protected. Only then are you able to stay
safe and healthy enough to help.
"Workers and volunteers
involved with flood cleanup should avoid direct skin contact with
flood waters if possible and through the use of appropriate PPE
[Personal Protective Equipment] and clothing. In most instances,
the selection of PPE will be dependent on site specific conditions,
hazards, and tasks ... In all instances, workers are advised to
wash their hands with soap and clean water, especially before eating
(Please see the above site for more specific details about appropriate
clothing and protective gear)
Questions of the Week:
How can you be ready to help with flood cleanup? What do you need
to know before you begin cleaning up after a flood? What do you
need to have in your home to be ready for a flood (and flood cleanup)?
Which of these supplies do you already have? Where (How) can you
store these supplies so that they will ready for use if they are
needed after a flood? Where can you find support in your community
before, during, or after a flood?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum