How to Protect Your Health When You Clean Up After a Flood
This fact sheet is intended to help you protect your health and your property assets after your home or business has been flooded. Clean-up is time-consuming and costly, but essential for the protection of your building and your health.
- Do not burn flood debris. Ask local authorities for assistance with removal of debris.
- Use professional services or use approved protective gear when dealing with mould.
- Use protective gear when dealing with renovation dust and flood water.
- Water and electricity are a dangerous combination.
- Keep Carbon Monoxide poisoning in mind.
- House fires are common after floods.
See also: New Brunswick’s Flood Clean-up Guide
Stages of the clean-up
Note that you should wear appropriate protective gear when cleaning up after a flood to prevent contact with flood water, mould or dust.
1. Remove standing water
Use sump pumps or, if there is not too much water, mops.
2. Remove wet materials
In addition to furniture and other household contents, remove wet wall board, insulation and any other building materials that have absorbed water. Flood water is toxic and these wet materials cannot be re-used even if you dry them. Do not burn debris. For a list of materials that will be accepted and a pick-up schedule for debris, check with your local service district or municipality. Flood waste will also be accepted at Crane Mountain Landfill, Fredericton Region Solid Waste and the Regional Service Commission 8 transfer station. Check hours of operation, and the schedule for Household Hazardous Waste Days. Inform staff at the gate that you are disposing of flood-damaged items.
3. Dry out your home or business
This can take several weeks, but it is essential to get your building completely dry as quickly as possible. Dehumidifiers can remove water vapour from the air. Beware of using extraction fans if the weather outside is rainy or humid - extraction fans draw air in from outside. Do not use unvented combustion sources. Use care when using electricity in a wet area. (See below).
Clean all surfaces that were in contact with flood water. Do not use strong chemicals such bleach as these can harm your nasal passageways and lungs. Liquid dish soap and water are recommended. If the smell of mould remains after cleaning, use professional companies to remove areas with mould (see below).
5. Repair structural damages
Floods can damage basement walls, septic systems or water supply lines. Check these and repair as needed.
6. Flood-proof your property
Floods can happen to your property again. Preventative actions are as individual as the property, but you should protect your investment against future flooding, especially since climate change may increase the likelihood of these events. See FEMA’s Guide for Coastal Construction
Things to be especially careful about
Disposing of debris
Any materials to be discarded after a flood, including furniture, clothing, building materials, driftwood or other material washed up with the flood waters should be taken to a landfill or other sanitary waste disposal system. These materials should not be burned. Burning releases toxic materials into the air which can cause a variety of health effects.
Mouldy smells and visible mould
Moulds often smell musty, like a wet-dog smell or old basement smell. Moulds can look black, green or white and appear either slimy or powdery. Many moulds are toxic if you breathe them or eat them. They are known to cause asthma and to make breathing difficult. Some rare moulds can make you very sick. Moulds need moisture to grow. Long after a flood, moulds can make your building uninhabitable, so it is essential to completely dry your building and furnishings after a flood. Mould clean-up is best left to professionals. If you must clean mouldy areas yourself wear goggles, a respirator and a disposable body suit.
Air-borne dust and toxins
Wear a mask when sweeping up dried debris, or removing insulation or old painted wallboard. Exposure to airborne flood debris and building materials such as insulation containing asbestos and lead paint can be toxic. Masks that meets N95 respiratory protection with two-way air flow valves that increase comfort are recommended.
Be aware that if you are using gasoline-powered generators, camp stoves, wood stoves or barbeques, these produce carbon monoxide which is a colourless, odourless gas that can be lethal at high concentrations. Do not use these indoors unless they are properly vented to the outside.
Cleaning and disinfectant chemicals
Many products used to clean and disinfect surfaces have strong odours and can be toxic at high concentrations. People with respiratory illnesses should not breathe the fumes from these products. Be careful about mixing these products as some mixtures can be poisonous or explosive. Read all labels carefully.
Water-borne bacteria and other toxins
Be sure the water you drink has been tested, or use bottled water. Throw out any food exposed to flood waters. Prevent direct contact with flood water.
Look for broken gas lines, any other open or leaking flammable materials, and flooded electrical circuits. Get professional help to deal with these. Fire is the most frequent hazard following a flood.
Turn off your power until all electrical connections are dry.