Health Risks of Flooding: Understanding the Dangers of Floods, Sewage, and Mold
Flooding in your basement or crawlspace is a hassle. While most of us worry about the physical aspect of water damage, there are also a number of health risks of flooding to consider as well. From mold to raw sewage contamination, flood waters carry a number of pathogens that may cause immediate or lasting health considerations. While anyone can be affected, children and pets are among the most likely to experience health risks. Those with immune deficiencies, the elderly, new or expectant mothers are also at a higher risk of illnesses after flooding. Keep your family safe after a flood or sewage backup by reviewing these health risks and how to avoid them.
4 Major Health Risks of Flooding
Mold is one of the most common health risks of flooding. Although it may appear after any type of water damage, mold is more common after groundwater flooding. Exposure to mold may cause allergic-type reactions such as sneezing, watery eyes, and skin rashes. It can also trigger asthma attacks. Young children, individuals with immune deficiencies, and the elderly are more susceptible to mold. Those with pre-existing allergies and respiratory conditions may experience more severe symptoms.
In order to prevent mold, dry out water damaged areas within 48 hours. Clean non-porous surfaces with soap and warm water, then disinfect with a solution of bleach and water and allow to dry. Use fans and dehumidifiers to dry porous surfaces, then disinfect once they are dry. Wash and dry fabrics and discard paper and other items that may take a significant amount of time to dry.
If you already have mold after a flood, it’s important that you remove the water and dry out the affected area quickly. Then you will need to remove the contaminated materials. Dispose of drywall, wall studs, flooring, and cabinets that were covered in mold. This also includes personal items like furniture, fabrics, and personal items. Disinfect the area with the hospital grade disinfectant and then rebuild the area as necessary.
2.Consuming Contaminated Water
Floods and sewage backups can contaminate drinking water with parasites and bacteria. Even clean water is susceptible to contamination if it sits for an extended period. Always keep children and pets away from flood waters to prevent them from accidentally consuming contaminated water.
Additionally, floods may also contaminate local water supplies, so always follow boil or no-drink warnings. While contaminants in water may affect anyone, children, pets, pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly, and individuals with immune deficiencies are more susceptible to illness. Use bottled water for drinking as well as for cooking and preparing baby formula. Also, use bottled water when bathing very young babies.
Children and pets that have swallowed small amounts of contaminated water may or may not display symptoms or become ill. Symptoms will vary by the individual contaminant. The most common symptoms of contaminated water exposure are stomachache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration.
Although less likely, groundwater flooding may also contain other contaminants. Lead, gasoline, pesticides, and other poisons may contaminate water from outside or inside your property. If you suspect the floodwaters contain one of these poisons, contact a water damage restoration company for proper disposal and clean up.
3. Carbon Monoxide
Another of the health risks of flooding is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas, making it virtually impossible to detect on your own. Portable generators are often used to power equipment, especially if the electricity is knocked out or shut off. The often release carbon monoxide as a byproduct which is deadly if inhaled in large enough concentrations.
Avoid running generators indoors to prevent a carbon monoxide buildup and always work in a well-ventilated space. If you begin to feel lightheaded or faint, take a break outside in the fresh air. Other symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include headaches, chest pain, and disorientation or confusion. High levels of carbon monoxide may also turn the flesh under fingernails red.
Pets, young children, and the elderly are most susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning, as they are less likely to notice the symptoms. For this reason, you should install and regularly check a carbon monoxide detector. Place the unit close to bedrooms to ensure it is heard when sleeping. If you have a battery operated unit, replace the batteries every six months just like fire alarms.
Another health risk of flooding is cross-contamination of household items. Thoroughly wash metal and plastic kitchenware and utensils used for cooking or eating that were affected by floodwaters. Throw away wooded utensils, as they may absorb contaminants.
Additionally, consider disposing of porous children’s toys like wooden blocks. You should also throw away baby bottles, nipples, and pacifiers that have been exposed to flood waters, especially if the water sat for a period or contained raw sewage. Wash contaminated bedding, pillows, and stuffed animals. While some books and other paper items can be dried, it may take more effort than it’s worth.
The Dangers of Raw Sewage
In addition to the health risks of flood, raw sewage poses an additional threat. A sewage backup will contain fecal matter and additional pathogens, like Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli. If your basement is flooded with raw sewage, wear rubber boards and protective equipment when cleaning.
You should also avoid drinking or eating anything that may have been contaminated with the water. In addition to cleaning, use a hospital grade disinfectant to sanitize the area after a sewage backup. Sewage backups are most common in basements or crawlspaces.
Besides the risk of contamination, there are a number of dangers of raw sewage in the basement. Sewage is likely to reach hard to reach places, like underneath or inside your washing machine, dryer, hot water tank, and furnace. Check under and inside these appliances to remove potential contaminations if you’ve had a sewage backup. If not cleaned up properly, they may make pets and children sick or lead to mold problems in the future.
Professional Flood and Sewage Restoration Services
If your basement is flooded with groundwater or raw sewage, Restoration Local will clean out and disinfect the area to keep your family safe. We are a network of contractors across the country that offer water damage restoration services. Find a water damage company near you now or call 1-888-443-3110 to speak to our on-call restoration company in your area. Our on-call water damage companies offer 24-hour emergency services, 30-minute response, and a free estimate.