Advice on flood clean-up safety from the city health department

September 18, 2008 10:38:13 AM PDT
The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) has some advice on flood clean-up safety. Heavy Rains Bring Potential Hazards

In the wake of the weekend's heavy rains, the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) is reminding all Chicagoans to exercise caution when cleaning up basements and other flooded areas.

"Although disease outbreaks after floods are not common, floodwater can contain various bacteria, viruses and other infectious organisms that may cause disease," stated CDPH Commissioner Terry Mason, M.D. "Our hope is that everyone uses common sense to prevent flood-related illness and injury."

Protecting Yourself from Injury

  • Public Health officials warn that Chicagoans should not enter a flooded basement unless they are certain that the standing water is not in contact with electrical outlets or other energized appliances (such as sump pumps). Call a qualified electrician to disconnect the power before you enter a flooded basement. Everyone should avoid handling live electrical equipment in wet areas. Such equipment should be checked and dried before being returned to service. Specific questions about electricity and flooded areas may be directed to ComEd at 1-800-EDISON-1.
  • Anyone entering a flooded basement or other area should wear protective clothing -- such as boots, rubber gloves and long-sleeved shirts -- to reduce contact with potentially contaminated items. This is especially important for individuals who may have a burn, rash or open cut anywhere on their skin.
  • Children should always be kept away from flooded areas.

Preventing Disease

  • After a flooded basement or other area has been cleared of water, it should be thoroughly scrubbed down with hot, soapy water. Special attention should be given to areas where children play (including toys) and to food-surface areas (such as counter tops, pantry shelves, refrigerators, stoves, cutting boards and TV trays). Everything that is scrubbed should then be rinsed with a solution of warm water and laundry bleach (1 cup of bleach per 5 gallons of water).
  • All linens and clothes that have been touched by floodwater should be washed in hot water, or dry-cleaned. Items that cannot be washed or dry-cleaned (such as mattresses and upholstered furniture) should be air-dried in the sun, and then thoroughly vacuumed and sprayed with a disinfectant. Steam-clean all carpeting.
  • Everyone involved in flood clean-up should pay special attention to personal hygiene to minimize the risk of disease transmission. Hands should be washed regularly with warm, soapy water -- especially before preparing and eating food, and before handling babies and children. Hands also must be washed after using the toilet and after changing a diaper. The hands of infants and toddlers also should be kept clean, since children frequently put their fingers in their mouths. Make a special effort to keep washcloths and dish towels clean.

Avoiding Tainted Food

  • Generally speaking, do not eat any food that has come into contact with flood water. Food in cans and bottles that still have their seals intact may be safe after being cleaned with warm, soapy water and then rinsed in a water/bleach solution. However, if the seal appears to be compromised in any way (such as cans with dents, rust pits, or bulging ends), the items should be discarded. The basic rule on food safety is: when in doubt, throw it out.
  • The same rule applies to food in refrigerators and freezers affected by power outages. Food in a typical freezer will stay safe for about 24 hours without electrical power -- assuming the freezer door stays closed. Food in a refrigerator will stay safe for about 4-6 hours during a power outage. Pay special attention to high-protein foods, such as meat, fish, poultry and dairy products; they tend to spoil more quickly than anything else in the refrigerator.


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