Health Precautions for Flood Victims

News from Health, Posted on Tue, 08/11/2009 - 2:06pm
The Cattaraugus County Health Department (CCHD) is issuing the following press release regarding safety and health precautions for flood relief workers or homeowners engaged in cleanup activities. Information is also available on the NYS Department of Health’s website at:

Water Supplies:

 Public – If you are on public water, you will be notified by your supplier if any precautions are needed.  The CCHD is in contact with the public suppliers in the flooded areas of the County and will be monitoring these supplies until flood-related danger has subsided.
 Private – If your well was submerged in flood waters, once the system is returned to full operation, you should:
1) Thoroughly flush the system until water runs clear
2) Disinfect the well and all internal plumbing per Health Department guidelines which may be obtained by contacting the CCHD or at our page Disinfection of Private Water Systems

Septic (Sewage) Systems:

 Public – Contact your local utility department if you have problems or concerns.
 Private – Wait for flood waters to recede and if there are problems with it functioning; contact the Health Department for assistance with correction.  It may be necessary to hire a licensed septic hauler to pump excess water from your system.

Household Cleanup:

 Failure to remove contaminated materials and to reduce moisture and humidity can present serious long-term health risks.  Standing water and wet materials are a breeding ground for microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria and mold.  They can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions and continue to damage materials long after the flood.

Remove standing water:

 Standing water is a breeding ground for microorganisms, which can become airborne and be inhaled.  Where floodwater contains sewage, infectious disease is of concern.  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.

Dry out your home:

Excess moisture in the home is an indoor air quality concern for three reasons:
· Microorganisms brought into the home during flooding may present a health hazard.
· High humidity and moist materials provide ideal environments for the excessive growth of microorganisms that are always present in the home, especially molds.
· Long term increases in humidity in the home can also foster the growth of mold and dust mites.  These are a major cause of allergic reactions and asthma.

Be patient.  The drying out process could take several weeks and growth of microorganisms will continue as long as humidity is high.  If the house is not dried out properly, a musty odor, signifying growth of microorganisms, can remain long after the flood.

Remove wet materials:

As a general rule, materials that are wet and cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried should be discarded, as they can remain a source of microbial growth.

Avoid problems from the use of cleaners and disinfectants by following label directions carefully. Provide fresh air by opening windows and doors.

 Cellar – if possible, wait for ground waters to drop below floor level.  Otherwise, drain or pump water from flooded cellars, being careful to avoid the collapse of walls caused by the pressure of the water-saturated ground around the basement.  Wash down the walls, floors and other areas exposed to flood waters; keep windows and doors open for ventilation.  Disinfect the washed areas by applying a solution of bleach and water with a broom.  Allow the solution to remain in contact for approximately 10 minutes.  The solution is prepared by adding at least 1 quart of bleach to 5 gallons of water.  Rinse with cold water as soon as possible to minimize staining.  Any commercially available disinfectant can be used.
 Floor coverings – flush rugs and carpets with hose and squeegee, then wash with lukewarm water containing a detergent.  If possible, rinse and dry in the sun.
Caution:  wool fibers will shrink more than synthetic materials.
 Furniture – Clean and then wash metal and leather surfaces with mild soap and water and wipe dry immediately.  Some upholstery may be washed on the surface with soap and water and wiped dry.  If possible, expose to open air and sunshine.

Safety Measures:

 Those people working in flood water, including basement clean up, should check their immunization status for tetanus and be sure it is up-to-date, meaning these individuals should have received their tetanus immunization within the past 10 years.  If not, a booster is strongly encouraged!  If an individual receives a laceration or puncture wound while working in flood waters, this person should contact his or her medical provider regarding the necessity of a tetanus booster immediately.  Use CAUTION when working in flood waters and wear protective attire such as thick-soled shoes or boots and thick, water resistant gloves.  Remember that there may be debris under the water!

More Information

Please visit the New York State Health Department's Health Checklist for Repairing your Flooded Home for more information

News from Health

Filed under: water, septic, safety, flood, cleanup