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Flood Recovery

BINGHAMTON, NY - Heavy rain over the weekend combined with warmer weather and melting snow has left its devastating mark on the Southern Tier flooding many people out of their homes and leaving a mess in its wake. As the water recedes and clean up efforts begin residents should pay particular attention to their personal health and safety.

The days and weeks after the flood are going to be rough. The arduous task of cleaning up can be physically and mentally exhausting. By taking some basic precautions, you can help prevent the possibility of injury and disease.

Select proper clothing for cold, wet, and windy conditions. This includes layering clothing to adjust to changing environmental temperatures. Make sure clothing stays dry and wear gloves. Standing or working in water that is cooler than 75°F will remove body heat more rapidly than it can be replaced, resulting in hypothermia.

Take frequent short breaks in warm dry shelters to allow the body to warm up. Perform clean up efforts during the warmest part of the day. Avoid exhaustion or fatigue because energy is needed to keep muscles warm. Use the buddy system (work in pairs). Drink warm, sweet beverages (sugar water, sports-type drinks). Avoid drinks with caffeine (coffee, tea, or hot chocolate) or alcohol. Eat warm, high-calorie foods like hot pasta dishes.

In addition to your physical health, you need to take some time to consider your mental health as well. Remember that some sleeplessness, or anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, mild depression, or lethargy are normal, and may go away with time. However, if you feel any of these symptoms acutely, seek some counseling.

Cleanup
Floodwater may contain sewage. Protect yourself and your family by following these steps for cleaning inside and outside of the home:

Inside the Home:

  • Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
  • Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles during cleanup of affected area.
  • Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures) with hot water and laundry or dish detergent, then disinfect with a solution of 1 cup of household bleach to 5 gallons of water. (Note: this solution should not be used for drinking, cooking, or personal hygiene.)
  • For items that cannot be washed or dry-cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, air dry them in the sun and then spray them thoroughly with a disinfectant. Steam clean all carpeting.
  • Remove and discard contaminated household materials that cannot be disinfected, such as wall coverings, clothes, rugs, and drywall.
  • Help the drying process by using fans, air conditioning units, and dehumidifiers.
  • After completing the cleanup, wash your hands with soap and water.
  • If your water supply has been contaminated, use water that has been boiled for 1 minute (allow the water to cool before washing your hands).
    • Or you may use water that has been disinfected for personal hygiene use (solution of 1/8 teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water). Let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy, use solution of ¼ teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
  • Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens. It is recommended that a laundromat be used for washing large quantities of clothes and linens until your onsite wastewater system has been professionally inspected and serviced. Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or ill.

Outside the Home:

  • Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
  • Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles during cleanup of affected area.
  • Have your onsite waste water system professionally inspected and serviced if you suspect damage.
  • Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
  • After completing the cleanup, wash your hands with soap and water.
  • If your water supply has been contaminated, use water that has been boiled for 1 minute (allow the water to cool before washing your hands).
    • Or you may use water that has been disinfected for personal hygiene use (solution of 1/8 teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water). Let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy, use solution of ¼ teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or ill.

Water for Drinking, Cooking, and Personal Hygiene
Safe water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene includes bottled, boiled, or treated water. Here are some general rules concerning water for drinking, cooking, and personal hygiene. Remember:

  • Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula. If possible, use baby formula that does not need to have water added.
  • You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands. If you use bottled water, be sure it came from a safe source. If you do not know that the water came from a safe source, you should boil or treat it before you use it. Use only bottled, boiled, or treated water until your supply is tested and found safe. Boiling water, when practical, is the preferred way to kill harmful bacteria and parasites. Bringing water to a rolling boil for 1 minute will kill most organisms. When boiling water is not practical, you can treat water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or unscented household chlorine bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite): If you use chlorine tablets or iodine tablets, follow the directions that come with the tablets.
  • If you use household chlorine bleach, add 1/8 teaspoon (~0.75 mL) of bleach per gallon of water if the water is clear. For cloudy water, add ¼ teaspoon (~1.50 mL) of bleach per gallon. Mix the solution thoroughly and let it stand for about 30 minutes before using it.
    Note: Treating water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or liquid bleach will not kill parasitic organisms.

Use a bleach solution to rinse water containers before reusing them. Use water storage tanks and other types of containers with caution. For example, fire truck storage tanks and previously used cans or bottles may be contaminated with microbes or chemicals. Do not rely on untested devices for decontaminating water.

Disinfecting Wells
If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, it needs to be disinfected. For information on how to disinfect bored or dug wells go to the Broome County Health Department's web site at www.goBroomeCounty.com/hd/ or contact Environmental Health Services at 607.778.2887.

How to Make Sure Your Food is Safe
Do not eat any food that may have come into contact with floodwater. For infants, use only pre-prepared canned baby formula that requires no added water, rather than powdered formulas prepared with treated water. Thawed food can usually be eaten or refrozen if it is still "refrigerator cold," or if it still contains ice crystals. To be safe, remember, "When in doubt, throw it out." Discard any refrigerated or frozen food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture.

Mold and Mildew
The most important step you can take to get rid of mold and mildew is to eliminate the source of water and then dry any wet materials. Use ventilation fans and dehumidifiers in bathrooms and kitchens to help dry out your home.

Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, or wheezing. Some people, such as those with serious allergies to molds, may have more severe reactions, such as fever and shortness of breath.

For questions about mold check the Health Department Web page Mold and Human Health: www.goBroomeCounty.com/hd/ and follow the links.

How to Avoid Illness
It is critical for you to remember to practice basic hygiene during the emergency period. Always wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected:

  • before preparing or eating food;
  • after toilet use;
  • after participating in flood cleanup activities; and
  • after handling articles contaminated with floodwater or sewage.

Floodwaters may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems, and agricultural and industrial byproducts. Although skin contact with floodwater does not, by itself, pose a serious health risk, there is some risk of disease from eating or drinking anything contaminated with floodwater.

If you have any open cuts or sores that will be exposed to flood water, keep them as clean as possible by washing well with soap to control infection. If a wound develops redness, swelling, or drainage, seek immediate medical attention. If you receive a puncture wound or a wound contaminated with feces, soil, or saliva, contact your medical provider to determine whether a tetanus booster is necessary.

In addition, parents need to help children avoid waterborne illness. Do not allow children to play in flood water areas, wash children's hands frequently (always before meals), and do not allow children to play with flood-water contaminated toys that have not been disinfected. You can disinfect toys using a solution of one cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water.

For emergency cooking you can use a fireplace, woodstove, barbeque grill or camp stove. Do not use a grill with charcoal briquettes for cooking indoors. Doing so can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Always use a charcoal grill outdoors. You can also heat food with candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots. Canned food can be eaten right from the can. If you heat the can, be sure to open it and remove the label first.

For more information on preparing for and recovering from a flood, call the Broome County Health Department at 607.778.3921 or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web Site www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/index.asp.

03/14/2005 - 1:48pm