Proceed with Caution in Flood Cleanup

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Release date: 
April 24, 2001
Release Number: 

Quincy, MA -- Disaster officials of both the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urge owners of flood-damaged homes to proceed cautiously as they continue cleaning up after the flood.

Homeowners should assume that anything touched by floodwater is contaminated. This includes everything from canned goods to playground equipment. (Note: Canned food should be discarded if the cans got wet during the flood because there is no way to be absolutely certain the food inside is safe.) Mud left by floodwater can contain chemicals from sources as varied as your garden, a neighbor's propane tank, and the oven cleaner you stored in the kitchen.

In addition, flood-damaged homes are likely to have damp areas where mold, mildew, and other organisms thrive. Since molds and related organisms may cause respiratory problems, it is important to use proper procedures in cleaning flood-damaged homes. A combination of household bleach and soap or detergent can be used to wash down walls, floors and other mold-contaminated areas. This will eliminate fungal problems and their inherent dangers. Follow directions on containers and take particular note of warnings.

Summer is approaching and with it outdoor living. Yards that have been contaminated by flooded sewage systems should be sanitized by a liberal application of hydrated lime, not limestone that is the "ag lime" more commonly used for garden applications. Lime treatment controls conditions that may support the growth of pathogens. Pathogens are disease-causing agents. Hydrated lime is available at lawn and garden stores and at lumberyards. It is important to ask specifically for hydrated lime and to follow directions on the container carefully. Children and animals should be kept away from limed areas until the lime is no longer visible.

Outdoor furniture, barbecue grills and equipment should all be cleaned carefully. Remove loose dirt and debris from affected surfaces with a power hose. Hardware stores sell power spray attachments for regular garden hoses. Keep surface wet with a solution of 3/4 cup liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water for five to 15 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with a power hose to remove any residue.

Don't forget to clean children's toys and playground equipment thoroughly. If your children have a sandbox that was touched by floodwaters, remove all the sand, disinfect the box with the chlorine bleach solution, and refill with new sand.

Mosquitoes can carry many diseases and a flood can create ideal conditions for mosquitoes to breed. Drain or remove standing water because it can become a mosquito breeding ground. Dump water out of barrels, old tires, and cans. Check to be sure that your gutters and downspouts are clean and can drain effectively. Ditches and drains also need to be flushed so they can carry storm water away from your house.

For more information, a joint publication of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross has been published. Repairing Your Flooded Home is available free from the American Red Cross or your state or local emergency manager. It is also available from FEMA Publications, P.O. Box 70274, Washington, DC 20024.

Information is also available from the Division of Community Sanitation at 671-983-6762.

Last Updated: 
July 16, 2012 - 18:46
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