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Think safety first in flood recovery efforts

August 30, 2009
Observer Today

The Chautauqua County Department of Health continues to caution those recovering from the flood to take special precautions.

Sanitation and hygiene: Preventing illness

Basic hygiene is very important during this emergency period. Always wash your hands with soap and water before eating and after toilet use, cleanup activities or handling items contaminated by flood water or sewage.

Flood waters may contain fecal matter from sewage systems, agricultural and industrial waste, and septic tanks. If you have open cuts or sores exposed to the flood water, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and water. Apply antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection.

Do not allow children to play in flood water, mud or with toys which are contaminated by flood water.

Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup.

Preventing the growth of mold

Moisture which enters buildings from leaks or flooding accelerates mold growth. Molds can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions, and continue to damage materials after the storm.

Remove standing water from your home or office. Remove wet materials promptly and ventilate; use fans and dehumidifiers if possible.

If mold growth has already occurred, it is best to have a professional remove it.

Individuals with known mold allergies or asthma should never clean or remove mold.

Additional household cleanup

Walls, hard-surfaced floors and many other household surfaces must be cleaned with soap and water and disinfected with a solution of one cup of bleach to five gallons of water.

Thoroughly disinfect surfaces which come in contact with food and children's play areas.

Replace fiberboard, insulation and disposable filters in your heating/cooling system.

It can be difficult to throw away items in a home, particularly those with sentimental value. However, keeping certain items soaked by sewage or flood waters may be unhealthy. Materials which cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within 24-48 hours should be discarded.

Garbage storage, collection and disposal

As you start cleaning, you will likely produce a great deal of garbage. Local authorities will tell you where and when collection will occur. Garbage invites insects and rodents. Rodents, in particular, may be looking for food because the flood may have destroyed their homes and normal food source.

Store any garbage in watertight, rodent/insect-proof containers with tight-fitting covers. Use plastic liners if available.

Put garbage in a convenient location, but not near your well.

Standing water: Preventing mosquito-borne illness

Heavy rains and flooding can lead to an increase in mosquitoes which may be infected with West Nile virus. To protect against mosquitoes, remain diligent in your personal mosquito protection efforts. Avoid being outdoors when mosquitoes are most active. For many species, this is during the dusk and dawn hours. Also:

Wear clothing which covers most of your skin.

Repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide), picaridin or OLE (oil of lemon eucalyptus) are options. Use strictly according to label instructions. Do not allow children to apply repellents and avoid applying repellents to the hands of young children.

Check around your home to rid the area of standing water.

Eliminate other breeding sites - remove old tires and turn over or remove empty plastic containers.

Tips for cleaning up in hot weather

Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic), regardless of your activity level. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot.

Don't drink liquids which contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar - these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.

Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.

NEVER leave anyone in a closed, parked vehicle.

Although anyone at any time can suffer from heat-related illness, some people are at greater risk than others. Check regularly on infants and young children, people aged 65 or older, people who have a mental illness, and those who are physically ill, especially with heart disease or high blood pressure.

Try to rest often in shady areas.

Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses, and by putting on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say "broad spectrum" or "UVA/UVB protection" on their labels).

Respiratory concerns

If you need to collect belongings or do basic cleanup in your previously flooded home, you do not usually need to use a respirator (a mask worn to prevent breathing in harmful substances). Times when you may want to use a respirator are explained below.

When inside:

You do not usually need to wear a respirator when you are inside a home or building unless you are doing something which creates a lot of dust in the air like sweeping dust, using power saws and equipment, or cleaning up mold. If you have to be around dust:

Limit your contact with the dust as much as possible.

Use wet mops or vacuums with HEPA filters instead of dry sweeping.

Wear a respirator which protects against dust in the air.

The N95 respirator (or N95 mask) has been approved by CDC/NIOSH and can give you some protection from dust and mold in the air. They must fit well and be worn correctly to protect you. You can buy N95 respirators in safety supply stores and in most home improvement and hardware stores. If you have trouble breathing or have any other trouble when you wear a respirator for cleanup work, stop working and contact a doctor or other medical provider.

When outside:

When you are in a very dusty environment (you may be shoveling debris, sweeping dust, or using power equipment), you may want to wear a respirator like the N95 respirator. If you wear an N95 respirator, read and follow the manufacturer's instructions on the package or insert. This will help you choose the best size of respirator and to wear it properly.

The N95 respirator is only approved for dust (from sweeping, sawing, mold removal, and other activities which cause dust) in the air. It is not approved for chemicals or gases in the air, such as carbon monoxide, and will not protect you from them. If you smell a strong chemical odor, you should leave the area right away.

For additional information, call 211 or contact the Chautauqua County Department of Health at 1-866-604-6789. You may also visit, or



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