Floods and Water Damage
Flood waters and water damage pose special problems for people with lung disease and may increase the likelihood of the development of lung disease. Water damage from rains associated with a hurricane can pose risks to the public well outside of the floodwater area.
During the flooding
- Evacuate if directed. Don't try to wait out the flood in your home if you are advised to evacuate. Do not drive through flooded waters.
- Floodwaters often include sewage and toxins in the water, especially in urban areas. Floodwaters there will include oil, diesel or gasoline, garbage, dead animals and chemicals that are caught up in the flooding.
- Standing water is a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and mold. These can become airborne and be inhaled, putting people at risk for lung disease. Even when the flooding is due to a fairly clean source, such as rainwater, the growth of these microorganisms can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
Emergency power risks
Without electricity, people may turn to portable gasoline- or diesel-powered generators, gas stoves, charcoal stoves, grills, portable camping stoves and other devices to cook indoors. Burning fuel, such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal, produces carbon monoxide. Exposure to carbon monoxide reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen and can kill.
- Do not use ovens and gas ranges to heat your home.
- Do not burn charcoal or propane inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle or camper.
- Do not operate gasoline-powered or diesel-powered engines indoors.
After the flooding
Protect health from the start.
- Stop the water intrusions first.
- Identify and protect vulnerable populations, which include children, the elderly and anyone with chronic diseases or a suppressed immune system.
- Identify the extent of the contamination. Be sure to trace the pathways of the water to find where damage has spread.
- Identify the damaged materials and furnishings and make sure any workers and occupants wear protective gear described below when they are around them.
Begin cleaning up as soon as it is safe to return.
- Be sure your home is safe enough for you to work in before you get started.
- Turn off the electricity and gas at the main location.
- After this emergency, you risk inhaling dust, building materials, contaminants and microorganisms during cleanup efforts, which also add to lung disease complications. Protect yourself and any workers and occupants from exposure to airborne particles and gases. Wear gloves and goggles. Wear a NIOSH-certified N95 mask to protect you from breathing these particles. However, N95 masks do not protect against gases and do not protect adults with facial hair or children.
- Materials which can be cleaned must be cleaned and dried thoroughly. Do not use bleach to clean up; soap and water will work.
- When in doubt, toss it out! Remove everything that has been soaked by water, including clothing, papers, furnishings, carpet, ceiling tiles and wallboard. Anything that cannot be cleaned and dried must be discarded. Simply drying out the water will not remove the contaminants or the microorganisms. Toss mold damaged materials in a plastic bag to discard.
- Damp buildings and furnishings promote the growth of bacteria, dust mites, cockroaches and mold, which can aggravate asthma and allergies and may cause the development of asthma, wheeze, cough and other allergic diseases.
Be aware of longer-term risks.
- The physical stress of dealing with the flood may put a strain on anyone, but especially people who are already ill or the elderly.
- In addition, the time spent in large group housing during evacuation may increase the risk of spread of infectious diseases such as influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis in vulnerable people, including children, older adults and people with existing lung diseases.
- Areas with high-level humidity and moist materials provide an ideal environment for the growth of microorganisms, which could result in continued or additional health hazards such as allergic reactions.
- Remember to repair and reconstruct the spaces to prevent or limit the possibility of flooding again. Do not rebuild in a floodplain.
For More Information:
- Download this printable Keeping Your Lungs Safe During Flood Clean Up PDF and share with members of your community.
- Ready.gov: Floods.
- U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. After the Flood Fact Sheet, March 2013. Repairing Your Flooded Home (booklet with the American Red Cross)
- Need help recovering? DisasterAssistance.gov helps you to receive disaster assistance.
- Institute of Medicine. Damp Indoor Spaces and Health, 2004.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Flooding.
- For more help on cleaning up after a flood or water damage, contact the American Lung Association Help Line at 1-800-LUNGUSA.
Accessed August 23, 2016.
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Keeping Your Lungs Healthy During Flood Clean UpDownload
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Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed October 31, 2017.