As Hurricane Michael approaches Florida, residents are warned to prepare to evacuate and to recognize the potential for dangerous flooding. Hurricane Michael’s power threatens to damage homes and communities in the aftermath of wind and, especially, flooding, and the cleanup itself creates the potential for serious and long-lasting threats to health. The American Lung Association shares tips for a safe evacuation as well as safe return after the waters recede.
Safely prepare for evacuation
All residents should follow instructions of local authorities and evacuate if directed. The American Lung Association encourages those living with a chronic lung disease to gather all of their medications, delivery devices, prescriptions and insurance cards in one spot so that they can quickly be transported in the event of an evacuation. Those who use supplemental oxygen need to make sure to have an alternate portable source of power in case the electricity goes out.
Returning after waters recede
Begin the cleanup effort as soon as flood waters recede, and residents can safely return. Follow proven tips to reduce health risks during cleanup as you cannot always see the threats. Chemicals, sewage and other dangerous substances found in flood waters can pose health risks to returning residents. Dampness breeds bacteria, viruses and mold. All water must be removed to prevent the growth of mold and protect respiratory health.
“Mold has been associated with wheezing, coughing, and in some cases asthma attacks,” warns Norman H. Edelman, M.D., Senior Scientific Advisor of the American Lung Association. “Some evidence links mold with respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children. Mold can grow anywhere there is water or dampness. Cleaning up affected household items after the water recedes is vital to protecting your health.”
The American Lung Association offers guidelines to help you and your family stay healthy after flooding. Protect yourself before returning to your building. Make sure it has been inspected for damage. Wear protective clothing, including gloves, rubber boots and N-95 face masks to protect you from contaminants. Individuals with lung disease or those with high risk of developing lung disease should seek help cleaning their homes and workplaces after floods.
Discard damaged materials and furnishings, including any items that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within 24 to 48 hours. Simply drying out water will not remove the bacteria or toxins that can make people sick. Furniture and other personal belongings covered by water should be discarded to prevent mold growth. Dangerous substances in floodwater can include sewage, chemicals, oil and gas which can saturate materials in the home and give off harmful gases.
Use soap and water instead of bleach for cleaning efforts. Open your windows to add ventilation. Avoid using air cleaning devices that emit ozone, which has not been proven to clean indoor air and can harm lung health.
If more than 10 square feet of your home is flooded, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends hiring professional cleaners. Mold flourishes in this environment and attempting to clean without professional help may increase the risk of developing respiratory problems.
For more information on cleaning up after a flood, contact the toll-free American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA. For media interested in scheduling an interview with a lung health expert, contact Britney Reddick at 470-233-7030 or Britney.Reddick@Lung.org.