As waters subside, thousands of British Columbians will return home to properties damaged flooding and what they find could be hazardous to their health.
Floodwaters are well-known for harbouring hazardous materials and bacteria that can lead to serious illnesses.
Dr. Carol Fenton, a medical health officer with Interior Health warns that people should avoid wading through floodwaters wherever possible.
“The water often picks up contamination as it moves across the land, that can include sewage, manure, chemicals, hydrocarbons and various other things. If there’s damage to any electrical system the water itself could deliver an electric shock.”
Fenton said anyone involved in cleaning up flood-damaged homes needs to wear proper personal protective equipment like rubber gloves, rubber boots, safety goggles and N95 masks to prevent getting sick. They’ll also need access to clean water, detergent and a sanitizing solution.
“All water needs to come out of the house. All mud, silt and dirt that came in with the water should be considered contaminated and removed from the house. And everything that may have come into contact with water needs to be cleaned and sanitized.”
Any absorbent surfaces like furniture or carpets that have been exposed to water need to be removed from the home, dried thoroughly, cleaned and sanitized to prevent mould hazards. If that can’t be done those items need to be discarded. All perishable food should be thrown out and non-perishables should be inspected to ensure they haven’t come into contact with water.
When inspecting the home for mould, people should be wearing an N95 mask and look for areas of mould. If an area is smaller than one square meter, people can clean it themselves, but if it’s larger than that, Fenton recommends requesting professional help.
Kim Cotter is the co-owner of Cotter’s Hazmat & Demolition, a Penticton-based remediation company. Cotter said she’s concerned for Princeton residents who may not have access to PPE while cleanup efforts are underway.
“At the very least, people need something over their eyes, ears, mouth, nose and any open wounds. You don’t want bacteria going into your body by any avenue.”
Cotter said if people are looking at removing large sections of drywall, vinyl sheet flooring and other similar materials, they should have the materials tested for asbestos, especially if it’s an older home. Costs will be dependent on each case, but Cotter said remediation costs will likely be in the thousands of dollars.
Another health issue is the mental health burden that people will carry for several months as they work to restore their homes. Fenton said people should check in with themselves and others to assess their mental state and access mental health support if they need it.
“There’s more mental health fallout months after the event once we’re past the acute stage it gets harder to manage. That’s when you need to watch out for your friends and neighbours to make sure everyone’s being supported.”
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