Health Department Offers Flood Victims Health Information and Advice

The Allegheny County Health Department is offering health information and advice for homes and businesses affected by yesterday’s flooding.

Flood Cleanup Tips

● Clean and disinfect washable surfaces that have come in contact with floodwaters. Wash with soap and water; then disinfect with a mixture of household bleach and water – one and a quarter-cup of bleach per gallon of water if floodwaters come from sewers and a quarter-cup of bleach to a gallon of water if floodwaters aren’t tainted by sewage.

● Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleaner. Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves and eye protection when disinfecting surfaces and try not to breathe bleach fumes.

● Discard upholstered furniture, mattresses, bedding and stuffed toys soaked in floodwaters.

● Soaked and soiled carpeting should also be discarded. If you try to salvage carpeting, dry it out and then shampoo it with a commercial rug cleaner.

● Clean, dry and check your furnace, water heater, washer, dryer and other appliances before using them. Don’t handle electrical equipment in wet areas. Call a plumber or an electrician for professional service.

● To remove odors from refrigerators and freezers, use warm water with a detergent and wipe dry. If an odor persists, try a solution of one teaspoon of baking soda or one cup of household ammonia per gallon of water.

● Throw away foods that have come in contact with floodwaters.

● Make sure everyone involved in flood cleanup work has an up-to-date tetanus shot. Boosters are recommended every ten years.

Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips

● Do not to use gasoline-powered washers in an enclosed space when cleaning flooded basements and other areas of a home or business.

● Gas-powered pressure washers can produce lethal amounts of carbon monoxide and should never be used indoors, even with windows and doors open, unless hoses and extensions are used inside and the engine itself, which releases exhaust fumes, stays outdoors.

● Furnaces affected by flooding need to be checked by a qualified heating professional before they are fired up for the heating season.

● Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer because it is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that people cannot detect with their senses before it kills or makes them sick.

● Carbon monoxide poisoning may produce any of the following symptoms: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, loss of hearing, blurry vision, vomiting, disorientation, seizures, loss of consciousness, coma, respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.

● Anyone who experiences symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning should leave the premises and immediately call 911.

Repairing Flood-Damaged Properties

● Dry out wet or damp areas as thoroughly as possible. Open doors and windows. Use fans, de-humidifiers and air conditioners to dry out damp environments.

● Be patient. Drying out a house can take weeks. Damage from mildew and decay will continue until a house is reasonably dry, and musty odors linger if a house is not dried out well.

● Scrub hard, non-porous surfaces with commercial cleaning products or detergent and water, and then disinfect the surfaces with a solution of household bleach and water – one and a quarter-cup of bleach per gallon of water if floodwaters come from sewers and a quarter-cup of bleach to a gallon of water if floodwaters aren’t tainted by sewage.

● Any items made of porous or absorbent materials that have been saturated in floodwaters should be thrown away. This includes ceilings and walls made of such materials.

● Remove and replace wallboard and fiberglass or cellulose insulation up to the point where it absorbed water. Styrofoam insulation may only need to be hosed off.

● Plaster walls and ceilings take a very long time to dry and generally do not have to be replaced unless they have many cracks or are sagging and in danger of collapse.

● Remove all wall covering that got wet and throw it out because it can keep walls from drying out. Also remove wallpaper paste, which can promote the growth of mold and mildew.

● Remove water trapped behind walls. Check for water by sticking an awl or knife into the wall. If water drips out, drill a hole large enough for the water to drain out.

● Wood, including studs, sills and paneling, generally does not have to be replaced when it is allowed to dry naturally and properly.

● Remove and throw away soaked floor coverings to dry out flooded floors.

● Make sure hard surfaces are clean and completely dried out before painting or caulking.

● If you use a contractor for flood cleanup and repairs, be sure to ask for and check references. Look for contractors who are affiliated with professional organizations.

Food Safety Tips for a Power Outage

● Use appliance thermometers in refrigerators and freezers. Safe temperatures are a maximum of 40° F for refrigerators and 0° F for freezers. Most foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly above 40° F.

● Keep freezer doors shut. A full freezer should keep food safe about 2 days; a half-full freezer, about 1 day. Add bags of ice or dry ice to the freezer, if the power will be out for an extended time. You can safely refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals or feel cold to the touch.

● Refrigerated items should be safe as long as the power is out no more than 4 to 6 hours. Discard any perishable food that has been above 40° F for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture. Keep the refrigerator door closed; every time you open it, cold air escapes and raises the temperature inside.

● If the power will be out more than six hours, transfer perishable foods to an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep a thermometer in the cooler and make sure the temperature does not go above 40° F.

● Never taste food to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they’ve been at room temperature longer than two hours, bacteria that cause foodborne illness can begin to multiply very rapidly. Some types of bacteria will produce toxins which are not destroyed by cooking and can cause illness.

● Please call the Allegheny County Health Department at 412-687-ACHD or visit for advice about the handling of specific foods in a power outage and when they should be saved or thrown out.

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