Flood Cleanup: Avoiding Indoor Air Quality Problems
During a flood cleanup, the indoor air quality in your home or office may appear to be the least of your problems. However, failure to remove contaminated materials and to reduce moisture and humidity can present secondary mold growth problems. Standing water and wet materials are a breeding ground for microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria, and mold. They can continue to damage materials long after the flood.
This fact sheet discusses problems caused by microbial growth, as well as other potential effects of flooding, on long-term indoor air quality and the steps you can take to lessen these effects. Although the information contained here emphasizes residential flood cleanup, it is also applicable to other types of buildings.
Prepare for Cleanup
Read Repairing Your Flooded Home prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross. The booklet discusses flood safety issues. The booklet also contains detailed information on proper methods for cleaning up your home. You should also consult the wealth of information on the FEMA, CDC, and The American Lung Association sites on the subject.
Avoid Problems from Microbial Growth
Remove Standing Water
Standing water is a breeding ground for microorganisms, which can become airborne and be inhaled. Floodwater may also contain sewage or decaying animal carcasses. Even when flooding is due to rainwater, the growth of microorganisms can is always a risk. For these reasons, all standing water should be removed as quickly as possible.
Dry Out Your Home
Excess moisture in the home is an indoor air quality concern for three reasons:
- Microorganisms brought into the home during flooding may present a health hazard. These organisms can penetrate deep into soaked, porous materials and later be released into air or water.
- High humidity and moist materials provide ideal environments for the excessive growth of microorganisms that are always present in the home.
- Long-term increases in humidity in the home can also foster the growth of dust mites.
Be patient. The drying out process could take several weeks, and growth of microorganisms will continue as long as humidity is high. If the house is not dried out properly, a musty odor, signifying growth of microorganisms can remain long after the flood.
Remove Wet Materials
It can be difficult to throw away items in a home, particularly those with sentimental value. However, keeping certain items that were soaked by water may be unhealthy. Some materials tend to absorb and keep water more than others. In general, materials that are wet and cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within 24-48 hours should be discarded, as they can remain a source of microbial growth.
You may be able to dry out and save certain building materials (for example, wallboard, fiberglass insulation, and wall-to-wall carpeting that were soaked only with clean rainwater). You may, however, want to consider removing and replacing them to avoid indoor air quality problems. Because they take a long time to dry, they may be a source of microbial growth.
In addition, fiberboard, fibrous insulation, and disposable filters should be replaced, if they are present in your heating and air conditioning system and have contacted water. (If a filter was designed to be cleaned with water and was in contact with clean rainwater only, ensure that it is thoroughly cleaned before reinstalling.)
Avoid Problems from the Use of Cleaners and Disinfectants
The cleanup process involves thorough washing and disinfecting of the walls, floors, closets, shelves, and contents of the house.
Be careful about the use of household cleaners and disinfectants together. Check labels for cautions on this. Mixing certain types of products can produce toxic fumes and result in injury and even death.
Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can be lethal at high levels. Carbon monoxide levels can build up rapidly if certain types of combustion devices (for example, gasoline-powered generators, camp stoves and lanterns, or charcoal-burning devices) are used indoors. Do not use combustion devices designed for outdoor use indoors.
Avoid Problems from Airborne Asbestos and Lead Dust
Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur if asbestos-containing materials present in the home are disturbed. If you know or suspect that your home contains asbestos, contact the EPA TSCA Assistance Information Service at (202) 554-1404 for information on steps you should take to avoid exposure.
Lead is a highly toxic metal. Disturbance or removal of materials containing lead-based paint may result in elevated concentration of lead dust in the air. If you know or suspect that your home contains lead-based paint, contact the National Lead Information Center to receive a general information packet, to order other documents, or for detailed information or questions.
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