Debris is hazardous. It often has sharp or rough edges; it may cause falls; it may contain hazardous material such as asbestos, lead or fiberglass; and it may have been con-taminated with chemicals or germs by the flood or storm.
Floodwater may have flowed through the local sewer-age system before reaching your property. If it has come from upriver, it may contain contaminated runoff. Such water may have elevated levels of fecal coliform and chemicals. Floodwaters may have picked up pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, gasoline and other chemicals com-monly held in household storage areas.
The bacteria which cause tetanus, or lockjaw, may lie dormant in soil. This is why cuts from tools or other objects that have been on the ground are particularly haz-ardous. Once the dormant forms (spores) of tetanus enter the body, they begin to multiply and form a powerful toxin that affects muscles. The most common symptoms are a stiffness of the neck muscles and painful spasms of the jaw muscles. Other muscle spasms may occur later. Tetanus frequently causes death. Symptoms of tetanus may appear from four days to three weeks after the wound is infected. About half the tetanus cases in the United States result from injuries considered trivial at the time they happen.
If you have not had immunization against tetanus and receive a scratch, cut or brush burn, consult a physician immediately. An immediate injection of tetanus antitoxin will last long enough to prevent infection from developing, if given in time.
Some of the debris on your property may contain asbestos (roofing, siding, flooring tiles) or be painted with lead-based paint (pre-1978 paint). Airborne asbestos and lead dust are dangerous to inhale or ingest (eat), but they are generally harmless when wet. They should be handled with gloves and bagged while wet. Fiberglass fibers from insulation will irritate skin and lungs after contact or if inhaled; collect carefully and bag.
In areas where burning is permitted, be particularly careful not to burn asphalt roofing, vinyl siding or any form of treated lumber. The smoke can cause eye and lung irritation or other problems. Don’t burn wood with lead-based paint since the lead fumes are poisonous.
Proper cleanup and disposal of debris will reduce the potential for nesting by rodents, snakes and insects. If your debris will not be disposed of quickly, be sure to pile it as far from the building as possible to keep infestations in a concentrated area away from the home. Don’t let children play on or around debris.
Before entering a damaged building, check for structural damage. Make sure the building is not in danger of collapsing. Look for leaning walls, sagging roofs and ceilings, and weakened support columns.
After a major storm or flood, you must assume all water sources are contaminated until they are proved safe. Purify all water used for drinking, cooking and for washing eating and cooking utensils. Also purify the water used for washing hands, body and kitchen and bathroom surfaces. Do NOT try to use or purify water that has a dark color, an odor or contains floating material. Note that the purification procedures outlined here reduce biological contamination only; if you suspect chemical contamination, do not use the water.
Choose ONE of these methods to purify water that has biological contamination. Boiling is the most effective method of disinfecting of water, particularly for people who have severely weakened immune systems (infected with HIV/AIDS, cancer and transplant patients taking immunosuppressive drugs, or people born with a weakened immune system) and for infants and elderly who wish to take extra precautions.
How do I clean and disinfect my well after a flood?
After a flood, it is important to take every precaution to ensure the safety of your well water. First, it is necessary to inspect and clean the well and pump before using them. You may want to have your water well driller or contractor check out the well before using it.The forces of nature – wind, water, earthquake and extremes of temperature – can leave behind debris-strewn areas, contaminated water, spoiled food, displaced wildlife and conditions which, if not treated properly, may lead to health problems. In these pages you’ll find information to help you avoid and recover from some of the hazards created by wind and water; severe winter weather is covered in a separate publication. Remember to take care of your-self and your family first, then deal with the things you may have lost to the disaster.
Discard any fruits and vegetables you did not harvest before a flood. This applies to any food product which was maturing or mature at the time of the flood, both above and below ground. Examples include squash, cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. Most home garden plants will die from the flood. In the absence of specific research on the safety of produce from a plant which
was exposed to flood water before fruit set, and given the uncertainty of what may have been in the floodwater, the LSU AgCenter recommends pulling up and discarding a flooded garden and replanting it.
Many animals in the path of a major storm are displaced and left homeless. It’s common to find these animals seeking shelter and food in areas close to people — in houses, storage sheds, barns and other buildings — and under debris. Structures damaged in a storm are particularly attractive and provide easy access for wildlife.
Watch where you place your hands and feet when re-moving or cleaning debris. If possible, don’t place your fingers under debris you intend to move. Wear snake-proof boots at least 10 inches high or snake leggings in heavy debris areas where snakes are likely to be found. Never step over logs or other obstacles unless you can see the other side.
As soon as possible after a storm, remove from around houses and buildings all debris that provides protective cover for displaced animals. Keep the lawn and field veg-etation mowed at a low level to eliminate protective cover. Remove any potential food source.
Rats, mice and squirrels are unwelcome post-storm guests. They can damage property and, in extreme cases, pose a potential health problem. It’s a good idea to get rid of them. Seal all openings around the house a quarter-inch and larger to exclude snakes and other animals.
Tips on Rodent Traps and Baits
Poison baits registered for rat and mouse control contain anticoagulant and non-anticoagulant toxicants. All rodent baits are effective in controlling these pests. Snap traps are effective in capturing nuisance rats and mice. Successful trap baits for the trigger mechanism include bacon skin, peanut butter, oatmeal and cotton balls. Check traps each day. Traps, including No. 0 or 1 leg hold traps, box traps and cage traps, will catch squirrels. Regular rat traps will catch flying squirrels. Good baits are apple, cracked corn and pecans removed from the shell, peanut butter and sunflower seeds.
In the South, there are many more species of nonpoisonous snakes than poisonous snakes. It’s important to realize both poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes are beneficial to people by keeping rodent populations down. Since rodents are also displaced by storms, this is especially important.
Learn to identify nonpoisonous and poisonous snakes. Information on snake identification can be obtained from books such as field guides on amphibians and reptiles from the state wildlife department or from your local LSU AgCenter Office.
If you encounter a snake outdoors, step back and allow it to proceed on its way. Snakes usually move slowly, and a person can easily retreat from a snake’s path. If you find a snake in your house, try to isolate the snake within a small area of the house.
Nonpoisonous snakes can be captured by pinning them down with a long stick or pole, preferably forked at one end, and then scooping them up with a flat-blade shovel. If you are uncomfortable removing the snake yourself, seek someone within the community who has experience han-dling snakes to do it for you. A good starting point is your local animal control shelter or sheriff’s department.
As a last resort, you may need to kill a poisonous snake. Club it with a long stick, rod or other tool such as a garden hoe. Never try to kill a poisonous snake with an in-strument that brings you within the snake’s striking range (usually estimated at less than one-half the total length of the snake).
No legal toxicants or fumigants are registered to kill snakes. Repellents are available, but they have limited success.
A flood-damaged building requires special attention
to avoid or correct a mold population explosion. Mold problems can result in damage to materials and health. The longer mold is allowed to grow, the greater the risk and the harder it is to remedy. As soon as the floodwaters recede and it is safe to return, don’t delay clean-up and dry out.
What Is Mold?
Molds are a type of fungi. They serve as nature’s recycler by helping to break down dead materials. Molds produce tiny cells called spores that float and spread easily through the air. Live spores act like seeds, forming mold growths (colonies) when they find the right conditions moisture, nutrients (nearly anything organic) and a suit-able place to grow. Of these, moisture is the key factor for growth and for control.
Mold and Health
Exposure to molds can affect health. People are mainly exposed by breathing spores or tiny fragments, but can also be affected through skin contact and by eating mold contaminated food. Both live and dead mold spores can affect people.
The types and severity of health effects from mold vary widely and are hard to predict. It depends on the sen-sitivity of the person, the amount and type of exposure, the length of exposure, the types of mold and other factors.
The most common health problems caused by mold are allergic reactions. People who are sensitive to mold commonly report nasal and sinus congestion, coughing, wheezing/breathing difficulties, sore throat, skin and eye irritation, sinus and upper respiratory infections. Although there is wide variation in how different people are affected, long term or high exposure can be unhealthy for anyone. Exposure to mold can trigger asthma attacks, may suppress the immune system or have other effects.
At greater risk of being affected more severely and sooner than others are children, the elderly, people with respiratory conditions or sensitivities such as allergies and asthma, and those having weakened immune systems. If you feel you or your family’s health is affected by mold or you have special health concerns that increase your risk, you should avoid any more exposure and tell your doctor or health professional about your symptoms and mold exposures.
What is “toxic mold”?
Some types of mold can produce harmful chemical compounds (called mycotoxins) in certain conditions, but don’t always do so. Molds that are able to produce toxins are common. If a toxin is produced, it may be present in live and dead spores and fragments.
Although potential effects of specific mycotoxins are known, identifying a mold that can produce mycotoxins does not tell you whether or not you have been or will be exposed to a toxin in a harmful amount. Still, all indoor mold growth is potentially harmful and should be removed promptly, no matter what type of mold is present or whether or not it can produce a toxin.
“Black mold” is a meaningless term since many types are black. It has become a popular label for Stachybotrys, a toxigenic mold that has received major media attention for its suspected, yet not proven, connection to serious conditions and infant deaths.
Mold Testing and Remediation Services
Mold testing in a home is not usually needed and is rarely useful to answer health concerns. Some insurance companies and legal services may require sampling for evidence. Professional mold remediation contractors may test before and after cleanup to verify the cleanup’s effectiveness.
To protect your family’s health and home, make sure the mold clean-up process is done as safely and completely as possible – as soon as possible. Using a well-trained and properly equipped professional can offer the safest remedi-ation, but this is often not possible for many. If you hire a contractor to remove mold, seek a licensed mold remedia-tion contractor with special training and equipment such as HEPA vacuums and dehumidifiers. Get in writing the cost, methods and steps to be used. Compare their procedures with EPA’s Mold Remediation In Schools and Commercial Buildings available online at www.epa.gov/mold. Also review the CDC’s Mold Prevention Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita available online at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/mold/re-port/
Do-It-Yourself Mold Removal Guidelines
If you need to or choose to clean up on your own, use these steps to do so as safely and effectively as you can and refer to EPA’s A Brief Guide To Mold, Moisture, and Your Home at www.epa.gov/mold.
1. Wear Protective Gear: Always wear a respirator rated N- 95 or higher when inside a moldy space. During clean-up, also wear gloves and goggles. Go outside frequently to breathe fresh air. Some types of respirators have valves to make it easier to breathe. A properly fit-ted half-face or full-face respirator with filter cartridges provides greater protection and comfort than the dust mask types.
2. Isolate Work Area and Ventilate to Outdoors: Disturbing mold colonies during cleanup can cause a huge release of spores into the air, so seal off the moldy areas from the rest of the house. Open windows, and don’t run the central air system during cleanup. Tape plastic over air grilles, and drape plastic in the stairwell if the second story is dry and clean. If power is on, put a box fan in a window to blow out and exhaust mold-filled air to the outdoors.
3. Remove Moldy Porous Materials: Porous moldy or sew-age-contaminated materials should be removed, put in plastic bags if possible and thrown away. To reduce the release and spread of mold spores, it is helpful to cover moldy material with plastic sheeting before removing it.
Remove all flooded carpeting, upholstery, fabrics and mattresses right away. It’s best to discard them, but if you hope to salvage a valuable item, have it cleaned, disinfected and dried quickly outside the home. Never reuse flooded padding.• Remove all wet fibrous insulation – even if wallboard appears to dry. Wet insulation will stay wet far too long, leading to the growth of hidden unhealthy mold and decay fungi inside the walls. Cut wall covering above the level that was wet; water can wick up above the flood level.• It’s best to remove all moldy, porous materials, especially if there is heavy or long-term mold growth -- including gypsum wallboard, processed wood products (particle board, chip board, etc.), ceiling tiles and paper products.• Plaster, wood paneling and non-paper faced gypsum board walls that dried, are in good condition and have no insulation in the wall may be cleanedand sanitized to salvage them. It’s best to remove multiple layers of paint on old plaster to aid drying. There is a risk of mold on the backside, however, that can release spores into the home through air leaks in the walls. If you choose to restore these materials, try to seal interior gaps with caulk.• Remove all vinyl wallpaper, flooring, and any other materials that hamper drying of framing toward the interior space. All interior side plastic sheeting, foil faced insulation and anything else that can act as a water vapor barrier should be removed.
4. Clean and Disinfect: Surface mold can be effectively cleaned from non-porous materials such as hard plastic, concrete, glass and metal; solid wood can also be cleaned since mold cannot penetrate solid wood, but grows only on the surface. Cleaning should remove, not just kill, the mold, because dead spores can still cause health problems.
After cleaning, you may choose to use a disinfectant to kill any mold missed by the cleaning. If there was sewage contamination, disinfection is a must. If you disinfect, follow label directions and warnings, handle carefully, wear rubber gloves, and never mix bleach with ammonia or acids. Many disinfectants, including bleach, can kill molds, but do not prevent regrowth of new colonies.
Remove any sediment. Hose out opened wall cavities, if necessary. Wash dirty or moldy materials with non-phosphate all-purpose cleaners, because phosphate residue
is mold food. Rough surfaces may need to be scrubbed. Rinse, but avoid pressure spray that can force water into materials.
If available, use a HEPA filtered vacuum (not a regular vacuum) to remove dust and mold residue. Disinfect wall cavities and other materials after cleaning to kill any remaining fungi and bacteria. Soil can make some disinfectants, including bleach, less effective. On colorfast, non-metal surfaces, you can disinfect with a solution of 1/2 - 1 cup household chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Do not use in the air conditioning system. Milder, less corrosive disinfectants include alcohols, phenolics and hydrogen peroxide.
5. Consider Borate Treatment: Applying a borate treatment to wood framing can provide some resistance to termites, decay and mold. The type of borate solution that penetrates the wood over time is more expensive but offers greater protection. Other mold inhibitors such as latex zinc paints and fungicides may also help inhibit mold growth during drying. Do NOT apply sealants that can reduce drying.
Framing materials that are difficult to clean or replace (such as “blackboard”, OSB sheathing, rough surfaces, etc.) can be painted with latex paint to “encapsulate” any remaining mold and prevent its release to the air.
6. Flush the Air: After cleaning and disinfecting, air out the building. Use fans in windows to pull mold spores to the outdoors.
7. Speed Dry: Dry all wet materials as quickly as possible. Close windows and air condition or heat, run fans and use a dehumidifier, if possible. If there is no power, keep windows open.
8. Remain on Mold Alert: Continue looking for signs of moisture or new mold growth. New mold can form in as little as 2-3 days if materials stay wet. Wood and other materials that may look dry can still be wet enough to support new growth. If mold returns, repeat cleaning and, if possible, use speed drying equipment and moisture meters. Regrowth may signal that the material was not dry enough or should be removed.
9. Do Not Restore until All Materials Have Dried Completely: Wood moisture content should be less than 20%. Do NOT use vinyl wallpaper, oil-based paint or other interior finishes that block drying to the inside.
10. Restore with Flood Resistant Materials: If possible, “wet floodproof” your home so it can withstand a flood with less damage. Use closed-cell spray foam insulation in walls, or rigid foam insulating sheath-ing that does not absorb water. Choose solid wood or water-resistant composite materials. Elevate wiring and equipment. Consider removable, cleanable wainscoting or paneling. Use paperless drywall that does not provide a food source for mold. Use restorable flooring such as ceramic tile, solid wood, stained concrete, etc.
A natural disaster leaves more than a trail of property destruction in its wake. Many times it leaves thousands of victims with a destroyed sense of balance. In addition to avoiding physical hazards, restoring buildings and replacing material possessions during the recovery period, you need to be aware of stress and how to reduce it. During the recovery period, devote some time to getting your stress level under control.
Start by being patient with yourself and others. Don’t expect things to restore themselves instantly. Focus on the big picture instead of the little details. Determine what’s really important, and keep in mind that different people, even in your own household, will have different priorities. Be tolerant of mood swings and expressions of disbelief, anger, sadness, anxiety and depression. Don’t overlook the feelings of children.
Try to keep your body healthy and strong. Keep your family’s diet as nourishing as possible. Talk with friends, family, ministers. In crisis situations, a supportive network is essential. Provide help to other families when possible; it will make both of you feel better. Resist the temptation to resort to bad habits. Alcohol, blaming, denial, smoking, overeating and revenge eventually cause more problems than they solve. Think positive. Develop a sense that things will work out. Make time for rest and relaxation.
Children cope with stress every day. One of their biggest stressors is fear. Children’s four major fears are death, darkness, animals and being abandoned. Children have a variety of fears: being afraid of the dark or the doctor or the vacuum cleaner, for instance. Disasters are somewhat different for children because they affect entire communities. Disaster is highly publicized and children sense that adults, too, seem to be afraid. So, it is normal for children to remain stressed and have a hard time coping for a long time after a disaster.
Even children who have not been in the disaster may be afraid and worried that it will happen to them. Young children are usually worried because they don’t understand what is happening. They can’t always tell the difference between what is real and what is pretend. Schoolchildren are worried for a different reason. They can tell the differ-ence, but don’t yet fully understand the laws of probability. They understand what causes a storm but may expect disasters or storms to reappear soon and often.
It’s hard to predict which children will be most af-fected and how. Research indicates children’s fears vary according to age, maturation and previous learning experi-ences. In a disaster, children may have encountered three of the four major fears. Undoubtedly, this will have an impact on their ability to cope for quite some time.
Another important aspect about children’s fears in-dicated in research is that fears may be intensified when adults back away from discussing painful topics with children. Many families ban all painful topics from family conversation. Such strategies reap high costs in terms of intensified despair and negativity among children. Talk to the children about the disaster and their fears.
After a disaster, some children may:
be upset at the loss of a favorite toy, blanket, teddy bear, etc. be angry. They may hit, throw, kick or act out in other ways. become more active and restless. They may wander about and not be able to settle down. be afraid of the disaster recurring. This is especially true if there is another storm or heavy rain soon. They may ask repeatedly, “Will it come again?” be afraid to be left alone or afraid to sleep alone. Children may want to sleep with a parent or another person. They may have nightmares. behave as they did when younger (sucking the thumb, wetting the bed, asking for a bottle, wanting to be held). have symptoms of illness such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, not wanting to eat, running a fever. be quiet and withdrawn, not wanting to talk about what happened to them. become upset easily - crying and whining. feel guilty that they caused the disaster because of something they did. feel neglected by parents who are busy trying to clean up and rebuild their lives and homes. refuse to go to school or to child care. The child may not want to be out of the parent’s sight. become afraid of loud noises, rain, storms. not show any outward sign of being upset. Some children may never show distress because they do not feel upset. Other children may not give any evidence of being upset until several weeks or months later.
Talk openly about what is going on. Give simple, direct answers to questions. Children have radar. They know when adults are afraid or worried and not telling them the truth. They hear other adults talk. It doesn’t help to tell a child “not to worry” yet show all the signs of worrying yourself. Take time to talk openly, honestly and often.
Listen to your child. Watch your child at play. Often children express fear and anger when playing with dolls, trucks or friends after a major disaster. Acknowledge the child’s feelings, and encourage conversation.
Reassure your child, “We are together. We care about you. We will take care of you.”
Hold your child. Provide comfort. Touching is important for children during this period. Close contact helps assure children that you are there for them and will not abandon them
Spend extra time putting your child to bed. Talk and offer assurance. Leave a nightlight on if that makes the child feel more secure.
Help “act out” with books, art, toys and drama. Work with claydough, paint, water play. If children need some-thing to kick or hit, give them something safe like a pillow, ball or balloon.
If your child lost a special toy or blanket, allow him to mourn and grieve (by crying, perhaps). It is all part of helping the young child cope with feelings about disaster. In time, it may be helpful to replace the lost object.
For more information, contact your local LSU AgCenter Office listed under local government in the telephone directory.