October 2011
September 20, 2011

Take precautions when cleaning up after flooding

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, left, works alongside a volunteer to clear a Schoharie home of sodden drywall and water-damaged flooring. Photo by Andrew Watson.

Mold or bacterial contamination can result in mild to severe health symptoms if people do cleanup work without proper protection, or reoccupy buildings before they are dry and properly cleaned, cautions Wendy Hord, NYSUT's health and safety specialist.

NYSUT offers these tips to avoid health problems:

  • Do not occupy a building if there is still standing water or dampness inside (beyond normal humidity levels).
  • Any materials, such as those in the building structure or contents and furnishings, that cannot be dried out within 24-48 hours must be discarded and replaced to avoid exposure to unhealthy levels of mold and bacteria.
  • Anyone engaged in mold cleanup work needs to wear appropriate protective equipment and follow safe and effective work practices and procedures.
  • People with weakened immune systems, asthma, mold allergies or other respiratory conditions, along with children and pregnant women SHOULD NOT do this work and MUST remain out of these buildings until the work is finished.

"Many resources are available to help protect people's health and to assess whether cleanup efforts are effective," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who oversees NYSUT's health and safety programs.

There is a wealth of information on floods, water damage and mold cleanup for homes, schools and workplaces. Some resources:

  • A guide developed after hurricanes Katrina and Rita to help homeowners and contractors cleanup homes safely is available at http://healthvermont.gov/enviro/water/documents/flood_cleanup_guide.pdf. This Field Guide for Clean-Up of Flooded Homes answers specific concerns in a straightforward manner.
  • Greene County Cornell Cooperative Extension offers specific, step-by-step fact sheets, including what to do about handling water-damaged electrical equipment, damaged crops and gardens and restoring water wells, at www.agroforestrycenter.org.
  • The Centers for Disease Control's website explains potential problems of flood water contamination: www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/cleanupwater.asp.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency's comprehensive website has information on large buildings and mold. For a complete guide on mold remediation in schools and commercial buildings, go to www.epa.gov/mold/moldresources.html and click on "Publications."