Hurricane Cleanup and Health: Be Aware Of Health Dangers Before Entering A Flooded Home

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria threatened life and destroyed property in massive proportions, as we all witnessed in numerous on-the-scene reports by news outlets around the globe. Now that the storms have passed, it’s important to be aware of a less-discussed set of health dangers that lurk in the aftermath of the winds and flooding: electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, infections, and lung damage caused by exposure to excessive amounts of mold. This last danger is especially severe for those who suffer from lung disease, including COPD patients.

As the long and arduous process of cleanup progresses in the areas affected by these disasters, we think it’s important to share the health hazards and warnings that people should know as they return to their homes. The American Thoracic Society prepared a helpful list, which we’ve shared here:

  1. Turn off electricity and gas immediately to avoid the dangers of shock and gas leaks. (For information on how to do this, click here).
  2. Assume that all mud and water that have entered the home are contaminated with bacteria and mold. Wear personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, glasses) as you re-enter the area and until cleanup is complete.
  3. Anything made of porous materials, such as carpets and furniture, should be discarded if they were soiled or saturated. They are likely to have mold and other microbial growth.
  4. Thoroughly clean solid materials with water and detergent. If you’re using bleach, use extreme caution, and avoid mixing it with other household cleaners as the creation and release of deadly gases could result. The combination of chlorine with ammonia, for example, creates toxic chloramine vapor. Read labels on household cleaners and avoid mixing them together.
  5. If you know or suspect your home contains lead or asbestos, do not attempt cleanup without first calling 1-800-424-LEAD for lead removal or the EPA TSCA Assistance Service at 202-554-1404 for asbestos.
  6. People at risk, such as pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised should avoid the area until cleanup is complete, as they are especially susceptible to infections and subsequent complications.
  7. If you have a respiratory disease such as COPD, mold growth may be particularly hazardous, so don’t re-enter the area until you know it has been tested for and cleared of mold.
  8. Pay attention to your health after returning to the hurricane-damaged area. If any new health symptoms arise during the cleanup process, contact your local health care provider as soon as possible.



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