The destruction of homes and communities in the aftermath of flooding is devastating, and the cleanup itself creates the potential for serious and long-lasting threats to health, the American Lung Association warns.
The Lung Association stresses the importance of beginning the cleanup effort as soon as storm surge waters recede, and it is safe to return. Chemicals, sewage, oil, gas and other dangerous substances found in floodwaters can pose health risks to area residents.
“Standing water and dampness is a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses and mold,” said Dr. Glenn Singer, Local Leadership Board Member, American Lung Association and Medical Director for Pulmonary Rehabilitation at Broward Medical Center. “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, and some evidence links mold with respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.”
This is especially important to know for the more than 2.5 million Florida residents that already live with a chronic lung disease like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
Mold can grow anywhere there is water or dampness. Cleaning up affected homes and household items after the water recedes is vital to protecting respiratory health.
The American Lung Association offers the following guidelines to help you and your family stay healthy during floodwater cleanup:
- Protect yourself before returning to your building. During the cleanup, you risk inhaling dust, contaminants and microorganisms, which are unhealthy for anyone to breathe, but especially risky for children, older adults and people with lung diseases. Wear protective clothing, including gloves, rubber boots and a NIOSH-certified N95 mask to protect yourself from breathing these particles. NOTE: N95 masks must be fitted and are suited only for adults. Ordinary dust masks cannot provide adequate protection.
- Turn off the electricity and gas at the main location during cleanup. In addition, 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 or close to open windows. These produce carbon monoxide that can kill occupants if it builds up indoors.
- Use soap and water for cleaning, especially to scrub mold off hard surfaces. Do not use bleach, which can make it hard to breathe.
- 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 or 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. Damp buildings and furnishings promote the growth of bacteria, dust mites, cockroaches and mold, which can aggravate asthma and allergies and may cause you to wheeze, cough and experience other respiratory symptoms. Dangerous substances in floodwaters can include sewage, chemicals, oil and gas which can saturate materials in the home and give off harmful gases.
- Consider hiring professional cleaners. Individuals with lung disease should seek help cleaning their homes and workplaces after floods. And 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. Attempting to clean without professional help may increase the risk of developing respiratory problems from these exposures.
- Do not burn debris or waste, which adds dangerous pollution to the air. Take 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 flooding, even if they’ve never had problems before. Be aware of any breathing problems that may arise, including:
- Coughing, especially at night
- Wheezing or feeling short of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Get immediate emergency medical help if fingernails or lips are turning blue or if there is severe chest pain. Both could be life-threatening.
If you are worried about your family’s lung health and have questions, call 1-800-LUNGUSA to talk to an American Lung Association respiratory therapist. More information on how lung health is affected by flooding is available at Lung.org/flood.
For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and floodwaters, contact the American Lung Association at Jill Smith at [email protected] or 704-818-4138.
About the American Lung Association
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, which has a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and is a Platinum-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.
American Lung Association • 55 W. Wacker Drive, Suite 1150 • Chicago, IL 60601
1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Ste. 1425 North • Washington, D.C. 20004
1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) Lung.org