Prevent floodwater illnesses

April 1, 2011

Cleaning up after hurricanes or other storms exposes cleanup workers to floodwaters, which can carry some serious health risks. Floodwaters can be contaminated with micro-organisms, sewage, industrial waste, chemicals or other substances that can cause illness or death, according to OSHA.

To prevent exposure to dangerous substances in floodwaters, the agency recommends:

  • Wear protective gloves when working in contaminated floodwaters, handling contaminated objects, or handling human or animal remains. Gloves should be heavy, cut-resistant and made of a waterproof material such as nitrile.
  • Disinfect water for handwashing by mixing one-quarter teaspoon of household bleach with 1 gallon of water. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes. Be sure to properly label the container with a “Do not drink” warning. 
  • Regularly wash hands with soap and clean (or disinfected) water. This is especially important after cleanup or decontamination work, before preparing or eating food, and after toilet use.
  • Wash any wounds with soap and clean (or disinfected) water. If none is available, use hand sanitizer. If wounds become red or swollen or begin oozing pus, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Although it is preferable to use soap and water, tools and surfaces can be cleaned using disinfected water. Tools should be immersed in the fluid for 10 minutes. Be certain to prepare fresh solution each day, preferably right before use.