Health director warns of health risks from flooding
Mold growth, bacterial contamination among the threats to public health
Health Advisory by Nola Goodrich-Kresse, Public Health Educator/Public Information Officer for Orleans County Public Health
Because of the recent rainstorms and high water levels of Lake Ontario and surrounding creeks and rivers, Paul Pettit, Director of the Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments, advises residents of the steps they can take to prevent health risks linked with home flooding.
“Flooded homes and basements can present a number of health risks if not addressed adequately,” Pettit said. “Problems connected with home flooding include bacterial and viral contamination from sewage backup and mold growth from left over moisture. These problems can lead to human infection and illnesses.”
Flooding may cause wastewater to back up into homes that have private septic systems. Once the water recedes, a high water table may still prevent these systems from working properly for some time.
Residents with municipal sewer systems may also experience sewage back-up. Sewage back-up can be caused by surging floodwater overwhelming older systems or power outages during a storm surge. Sewage contains bacteria, viruses, and other germs that can cause disease.
The most common signs and symptoms after exposure to raw sewage are stomach and bowel distress (nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea) and skin problems such as rashes and sores. Individuals who experience nausea, diarrhea or vomiting after exposure to sewage should contact their primary care providers.
“Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup if sewage has backed up into your home,” advises Sarah Balduf, Environmental Director of Genesee and Orleans County Health Departments. “Remove and discard contaminated household goods such as wall coverings, rugs, cloth and drywall that cannot be disinfected,” Balduf said. “Be sure to thoroughly disinfect all contaminated surfaces that come in contact with food and children’s play areas. Disinfect non-porous surfaces with a solution of three tablespoons of bleach to one gallon of water (or one cup bleach to five gallons water). Never mix bleach with ammonia cleaners.”
Individuals with open cuts or sores should try to avoid contact with sewage-contaminated floodwater. If accidentally exposed, keep skin (especially any cuts or sores) as clean as possible by washing with soap and clean water. Apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a sterile bandage to reduce the risk of infection.
If you have deep cuts and/or puncture wounds and have not had a tetanus vaccination within the past 10 years, or are unsure of the date of the last tetanus shot, get a tetanus booster.
For additional information on managing sewage back-ups, click here.
Mold will grow in flooded homes and buildings that do not dry out quickly. People living or working in buildings with wet carpets, walls, mattresses or furniture may develop health problems such as allergies, asthma and sneezing.
Persons at highest risk are those with allergies, asthma, chronic respiratory diseases, infants, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems. For information on preventing and managing mold, click here.
For information on drinking and food guidance after a flood, click here.