Living on the Texas Gulf Coast all of my life, I am very familiar with the devastation flooding can cause and the many health concerns that can arise after severe flooding. The importance of taking care of your health, both during and after a flood, is paramount.
After a powerful weather situation or disaster, most people aren’t thinking about how they can avoid health concerns, especially after a flood. It’s often forgotten that floodwaters are often highly toxic and contaminated. Floodwaters may contain harmful toxins such as pesticides, petroleum products, toxic chemicals, and sewage, all of which can cause many health concerns.
“During a flood, always take precautions while cleaning:
wear gloves, masks, boots and goggles. If you are aware of
a cut on your body, place waterproof adhesives over your
skin for protection and be aware that any swelling or redness
should be seen by a doctor right away.”
J. R. Atkins – First Responder who contracted the deadly
“flesh eating bacteria” while trying to rescue people
from floodwaters after Hurricane Harvey.
HEALTH CONCERNS AFTER A FLOOD
Sewage, both human and animal, in the water adds to the major health concerns after a flood. Contact with this contaminated flood water can cause gastrointestinal concerns from the bacteria, viruses, and parasites accumulated in the water. Floodwaters are full of parasites such as Giardia and amoebae; bacteria including E.coli, Salmonella, and Shigella; viruses including Hepatitis A, Rotavirus, Parvovirus, and the viruses that cause what we commonly call the stomach flu. Even after the floodwaters recede, these pathogens can still be present in areas that flooded, including your home and business.
Making sure your digestive tract is supported is the first and foremost solution to avoid these gastrointestinal illnesses. Flooding and other weather-related tragedies cause an enormous amount of stress which can then cause inflammation in the lining of your intestinal tract. Supplementing with higher doses of a high-quality probiotic and including a harmful organism protocol is an effective strategy to help your body fight off anything with which you may come in contact. And, of course, frequent hand washing using clean, warm water and soap helps prevent most viruses and other illnesses.
Most cities around open waterways, lakes, rivers, streams, oceans, etc., have a mold concern, especially if the area experiences high humidity. Dampness from floodwaters mixed with high humidity is a recipe for major health issues after a flood. With the addition of floodwaters come not only mold but also microbes that grow in damp places. These microbes are transmitted through the air or by insects like mosquitoes, whose population explodes after a flood. Aerosolized bacteria like Legionella from floodwaters grow well in damp HVAC units and ductwork, causing serious respiratory infections and illness. Other sources of respiratory concerns are often allergic or irritant in nature, especially in asthma-prone people. Indoor use of gas-powered generators, pressure washers, water pumps, and more can cause carbon monoxide poisoning without adequate ventilation or against manufacturer warnings for outdoor use only.
The importance of keeping your immune system strong cannot be emphasized enough. Strengthen your immune system with a good quality probiotic, and protect your respiratory tract with high levels of Vitamin C as well as a liposomal glutathione supplement. Consider an anti-infective such as a broad spectrum colloidal silver when infection possibility is great. An effective natural insect repellent is a must as the mosquito population grows. An N-99 respirator mask filters out airborne chemicals and particles, including mold that you may come in contact with while cleaning up your home or office after a severe flood. Ductwork often needs to be replaced by a professional. And don’t forget the air duct vents. Spraying on a dilution of bleach (let dry) followed by cleaning the vent with borax detergent will clean the air duct vents of mold and mold spores. A good ionizer air purifier providing several air purification technologies is an excellent idea for your home.
After a flood, mold spore counts are extremely high – both indoors and outdoors and add to the major health concerns after a flood. Mold exposure is serious. Mold sickness can range from an irritating rash or bothersome cough to more serious symptoms such as pneumonia, severe weakness, and tachycardia. It’s important that you do not cut corners when rebuilding a flood-damaged home, especially when it comes to mold remediation. Mold can grow in hard-to-reach places such as insulation, walls, window sills, and lumber. It doesn’t have to be seen to cause mold sickness. In fact, Stachybotrys chartarum, the most toxic of molds and a mycotoxin producer, is known to grow on material with high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint, and can cause illness without ever becoming visible. It’s important to note that most doctors will not ask you if you have mold growing in your home, even if your symptoms are clearly mold-related.
Pine oil-based products are usually the most effective non-toxic choice when cleaning up after mold remediation. Though there is contradictory advice regarding the use of bleach solutions, some research shows it can cause mold to sporify as it dies, thus creating more airborne mold-related illness. You may want to consider a borax detergent solution or pine oil cleaner.
Below are tips for hiring mold remediation professionals:
- Know the rules of your state about using licensed mold remediation professionals. Not all states require licensing. Do not hire unlicensed professionals in those states.
- Do not hire contractors who recommend fogging or spraying as the way to clean up. Moldy materials must be removed from the building.
- If possible, get quotes from more than one company.
- Ask each contractor to give references for similar jobs and check to see if those references were satisfied with the jobs done.
- Require each contractor to give a written estimate that includes: A detailed scope of work. A detailed plan for how you and other residents, your belongings, and the workers themselves will be protected during the work. An agreement that you will hold the payment until the work passes an inspection by a professional. The inspection should show no visible mold, no mold odors, and that the air tested after the work was done has a safe level of indoor air quality.
- To get the most protection for the work, ask the contractor to give proof that the contractor has a commercial general liability, contractual liability, and pollution (mold) liability insurance.
- Use a highly qualified person for inspection and testing. In some states, that person must not work for the mold remediation contractor and must give a written report of the inspection findings. This report lets you know that it is safe to rebuild. You should also save this report and show it to prospective buyers when you sell or rent your home.
Supplements recommended for mold concerns for yourself and your family should include wild Mediterranean oregano oil capsules, Vitamin C, a binder like zeolite, and activated charcoal made with coconut shells. These specific supplements can help your immune system fight off any mold you might come in contact with. Consume foods rich in quercetin like apples and pears to reduce irritation and inflammation. Foods such as garlic, leeks, and onions are rich in allicin which acts as a potent antioxidant and antimicrobial. If you are already sensitive to mold or have a mold allergy, it’s best to implement an anti-candida/mold diet and avoid sugars, sweet fruits, and fermented foods until the mold issues are resolved, and spore counts are lower.
Asbestos and Pest Control
A certified professional is required to remove asbestos. In most states, pest control contractors who apply borate solutions, like Termite Prufe® or Bora-Care®, must be licensed pest control operators. Be mindful that the time after a major weather event is ripe for scammers, over-charging, and those who will pose as professionals. These people know that victims are vulnerable and want to get back into their homes as quickly as possible and thus are willing to cut corners and forego professional proof. Always ask to see professional credentials, insurance as well as recommendations from satisfied customers.
Many homes built before 1978 have paint that contains lead. As the building dries and the paint flakes and peels from the walls, lead dust becomes a danger to people who do the clean-up. Demolition and renovation can make large amounts of dust that people in the home or workers can breathe in or get on their clothes, hands, or food. By the time a person shows symptoms, lead poisoning has already happened.
Symptoms of Lead Poisoning In Adults
- Pain, numbness, or tingling of the hands and feet
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Abdominal pain
- Memory loss
- Sexual difficulties in men
- Problems during pregnancy
Lead poisoning often shows no symptoms at all.
Clean Drinking Water
After a flood, the quality of your drinking water is paramount. Heavy metals, sewage residue, pesticides, fertilizers, feedlot runoff, and other toxic chemicals, organic compounds like petroleum, and the toxic pathogens already discussed can be present in your water supply. Remember that municipal filtration systems are not always equipped to effectively handle these contaminants after a severe flooding event. A good quality water filter comes in handy – one that requires no electricity and gives you safe, clean drinking water. Even bottled water can be contaminated and usually in short supply during a severe flood or hurricane. Whether you decide to install a whole house filtration system (which can also be easily compromised during a flood) or a portable tabletop gravity filter, clean water is vital to staying healthy in the aftermath of a flood.
After a major weather event, the recovery and restoration period can affect your health and your emotional well-being. The stress of going through something like a flood with its long-term after-effects is daunting at best. Try to implement a healthy diet as quickly as possible and keep your body hydrated with pure and clean water. Implement the supplement suggestions, and as much as possible, try to get at least eight hours of restful sleep. Be good to yourself and know that, with time, your life will get back to normal. Patience, calmness of mind, and a good attitude are your best friends.
Most of all, always be prepared for major weather events. If you live in an area that experiences flooding, tornadoes, or hurricanes, it’s important to know the information provided in this article. Print it out, put it in a safe place, and above all – always be prepared.
“Fact Sheet: Flood Cleanup – Avoiding Indoor Air Quality Problems,” EPA Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/flood.html
Creating a Healthy Home: A Field Guide for Cleanup of Flooded Homes, National Center for Healthy Housing and Enterprise Community Partners, http://www.centerforhealthyhousing.org/FloodCleanupGuide_screen_.pdf
“Dealing with Mold & Mildew in your Flood Damaged Home,” FEMA, http://www.fema.gov/pdf/rebuild/recover/fema_mold_brochure_english.pdf
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. After the Flood: Is Your Water Safe to Drink?
First Responder Gets Deadly Infection During Harvey Rescues. Haley Hernandez – Health Reporter. Click2Houston. September 7, 2017.