LA Health Department Warns of Flooding Dangers

Monday, November 9, 2009 - 1:04pm

Baton Rouge - The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals advises people to avoid contact with floodwaters following Tropical Storm Ida. Residents of areas affected by Ida are advised to keep the following tips in mind if flooding has occurred in their area:

1. Keep an Eye Out for Rising Waters

Weather radar is showing heavy, or extremely heavy, rainfall in parts of the area. This will cause street flooding. Just a few inches of moving water can be enough to sweep you off of your feet. Water only a few feet deep can cause a vehicle to float off the roadway, so do not drive or walk into flooded streets. In the dark, it will be even more difficult to tell how deep water is.

Please stay inside. Do not make things more difficult for rescue personnel than what they already are. Continue to monitor your local TV and radio stations for further details.

2. Don't Wade or Swim in Contaminated Floodwaters

There is always the possibility that heavy rains or other major storm activity will cause sewage treatment systems (both community and residential) to fail. Sewage disposal ponds and cattle and swine lagoons can also overflow, potentially exposing area residents to disease-causing bacteria.

Therefore, residents should not deliberately enter floodwater. It is also important to keep an eye on children and make sure they do not attempt to swim in a flooded area. Do not ever, under any circumstances, drink or ingest floodwater.

If people do come in contact with floodwater, they should bathe and wash their clothes with hot, soapy water immediately afterward.

3. Septic Tanks Could be Affected by Floodwater

Health officials say that flooding will keep septic systems and other residential sewage disposal systems from operating correctly until the floodwaters recede. Homeowners should take the following steps if their septic tank system has failed:

· Avoid using the home's plumbing system if the septic tank or the drain field is still underwater.

· Do not use the plumbing system if sewage is backing up into the house.

· Try to reduce the amount of debris entering the septic tank and plumbing systems.

· Avoid contact with the sewage from malfunctioning septic tanks - raw sewage is a public health problem and can cause disease.

· Avoid contact with electrical wiring and electrical components of mechanical sewage treatment systems.

Officials warn that some systems may be so damaged that repairs will be required before they will work again. Significant health problems associated with a residential sewage disposal system that does not work are the release of untreated sewage onto the top of the ground, into streams and bayous, or into stagnant pools left behind by flooding.

For more information about how to deal with failed residential sewage systems contact your parish health unit.

4. Cleaning Homes Contaminated with Sewage

People whose homes are flooded should assume everything touched by floodwater is contaminated with bacteria and will have to be disinfected. Most cleanup can be done with household cleaning products such as bleach or antibacterial products. Residents are advised to wash their hands frequently during cleanup and always wear rubber gloves.

Materials that can be cleaned should be washed with a detergent solution, rinsed with clear water, and rinsed again with a solution such as 1 1/2 cups of household chlorine bleach mixed with one gallon of water. Allow this solution to stay in contact with the material for five minutes and rinse again with clear water. Avoid skin contact with the solution and use only in well-ventilated areas. Some materials, such as clothing, may be damaged by the bleach solution. Remember that the use of disinfectants is no substitute for drying and cleaning materials.

Make sure the materials are dry before cleaning. If they cannot be dried out, throw them away. Dispose of them properly.

Porous, soft or spongy materials such as carpet, upholstered furniture, sheet rock and bedding that are soaked by floodwater contaminated with sewage contain harmful microorganisms, which can reproduce in these materials to numbers that can present a health risk after only a few hours.

If conditions are favorable, microscopic organisms such as bacteria and fungi can multiply after the initial cleanup has been completed. People who live and work in contaminated buildings run the risk of developing or worsening potentially serious illnesses such as asthma and allergies.

The only way to effectively prevent this growth is to control the moisture. Once the materials have been contaminated, they must either be thoroughly cleaned or disposed.

The following guidelines are recommended for cleanup activities:

· Porous, absorbent, or spongy materials that remain wet for more than 48 hours should be cleaned throughout or thrown away.

· Fungi and bacteria will re-contaminate materials if they remain wet even after very thorough cleaning and disinfecting.

· If carpet or other materials become moldy or musty smelling, they are probably contaminated. Carpet cleaning professionals using hot water extraction methods may be able to remove the contaminants. If not, the carpet and padding should be replaced.

· Contaminated upholstered furniture, bedding and books are much more difficult to clean than carpet and should usually be thrown away because cleaning may be more expensive than replacement.

Handling and cleaning contaminated materials can result in massive exposures to mold, bacteria, viruses and other contaminants. Individuals with respiratory allergies, or other respiratory illnesses, should not handle or disturb materials that have visible mold growth.

Professional cleaning companies using appropriate personal protective equipment should be used if contamination is extensive.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about DHH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov.