Harvey, Irma and You: Flood Recovery Cleaning
We’re only a few months into hurricane season and the country has already experienced two major storms. While the damage from Harvey and Irma was devastating, the truth is floods happen everywhere and in every season. They are dangerous, killing more people than any other weather event, and costly. The National Severe Storms Laboratory, which is part of NOAA, estimates that floods cost about $5 billion a year.
Flood recovery cleaning is a long and difficult process and the risks remain even after the waters recede. Protect your workers, your property and yourself by doing it right.
Dangers Under the Surface
Floodwater is often a contaminated soup of infectious organisms like E. coli, Salmonella and tetanus mixed with hazardous industrial and agricultural chemicals. OSHA recommends treating all water as unsafe until local authorities announce otherwise. Until then wear protective clothing including rubber boots, gloves and goggles.
Mosquitos love standing water, and their breeding will increase the risk of insect-born illness like encephalitis and West Nile Virus. Flooding also displaces wild animals, moving them to more populated areas. This ups the chance of contracting rabies and Lyme Disease. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants and insect repellent should be used.
Fire threats from downed power lines and gas leaks are also a concern. Make sure power and gas are turned off. Always assess the foundation before entering a flood-damaged structure. The Washington Post reports that serious foundation damage is common in areas where the soil is mostly clay and advises against entering a building that looks cracked, off-kilter or has doors and windows that won’t open or close.
A Growing Problem
Once the water recedes the real problem begins: mold. The fungus will begin to grow quickly on inundated construction materials like drywall, insulation and structural framing. Workers should lower the humidity by opening doors and windows and using drying equipment like fans. Remove drywall and plaster to expose the studs. Most flooring materials like carpet and vinyl will not survive.
Cleaning and remediating an HVAC system takes special care. The CDC states that mold will grow on all HVAC system components, even in areas that were not inundated. They suggest removing and discarding contaminated insulation and filters before cleaning with a HEPA-filtered vacuum and disinfecting with a bleach solution. Follow the disinfection procedure with a clean water rinse and dry thoroughly.
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Amy Milshtein covers design, facility management and business topics for a variety of trade publications and consumer magazines.
Her work has won several awards, most recently a regional silver Azbee Award of Excellence.
She lives in Portland, OR with her family and Clyde, a 15-lb tabby cat. Once an avid hiker, these days she finds herself on the less-challenging -but-still-exciting 'creaky knees' trails.