Ocean Isle Beach, NC | August 5, 2020
The destruction of homes and communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaias is tragic, and the cleanup from floodwaters itself creates the potential for serious and long-lasting threats to health. The American Lung Association in North Carolina offers cleanup tips to reduce health risks for residents impacted by flooding.
Chemicals, sewage, oil, gas and other dangerous substances found in floodwaters can pose health risks to area residents, and mold can grow anywhere there is water or dampness.
“Standing water and dampness is a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses and mold,” said Lung Association Chief Medical Officer Albert Rizzo, M.D. “These can become airborne and inhaled, putting people at risk for lung disease. In fact, mold has been associated with wheezing, coughing, and in some cases asthma attacks. There is also some evidence that links mold with respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.”
The Lung Association has issued proven cleanup tips to reduce health risks for North Carolina residents:
- Wear protective gear. During cleanup, you risk inhaling and coming into contact with dust, building materials, contaminants and microorganisms. Wear disposable gloves and goggles and when available N95 mask (when available).
- Turn off the electricity and gas at the cleanup site. Do not use portable gasoline- or diesel-powered generators, power washers, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane or charcoal-burning equipment and other devices inside. These produce carbon monoxide that can kill occupants if it builds up indoors.
- 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 and anything porous (like drywall and carpet) that had been in floodwaters for 24 to 48 hours must be discarded. Simply drying out water will not remove the bacteria or toxins that can make people sick.
- Use soap and water for cleaning, especially to scrub mold off hard surfaces. Do not use bleach, which can make it hard to breathe.
- Consider hiring professional cleaners. If more than 10 square feet of your home is flooded or if water has been in the building for more than one or two days, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends hiring professional cleaners. Flood waters bring in nasty residue that may contaminate porous building materials. Mold flourishes in this environment and attempting to clean without professional help may increase the risk of developing respiratory problems.
- Do not burn debris or waste, which adds dangerous pollution to the air. Remove it to a designated disposal area.
- Keep an eye on symptoms. It is not uncommon for people to develop health problems after a disaster such as Hurricane Isaias, even if they’ve never had problems before. Be aware of any breathing problems that may arise, including: coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness or pain.
- Ask for help. The Lung Association’s Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA is staffed by nurses and respiratory therapists and is a free resource to answer any questions about the lungs, lung disease and lung health, including how to protect yourself during cleanup.
More information on how to protect yourself is available at Lung.org/flood.
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease through education, advocacy and research. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to champion clean air for all; to improve the quality of life for those with lung disease and their families; and to create a tobacco-free future. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.
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