As we prepare to recover from the flooding of the West Virginia’s hardest hit counties many points of interest need to be noted in the water-borne and emergency power risks that exist to protect the public and especially those who suffer from lung disease:
• The greatest health risk in this emergency may come from water-borne microorganisms and toxins. Even after the water recedes, contaminants, bacteria, viruses and mold left behind pose a risk to those with lung disease. Exposure to these microorganisms and toxins may increase the risk of developing lung illness. In addition, time spent in large group housing may increase the risk of the spread of infectious diseases, such as influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.
• Damp buildings and furnishings promote the growth of microorganisms, dust mites, cockroaches and mold, which can aggravate asthma and allergies and may cause the development of asthma, wheeze, cough and hypersensitivity pneumonitis in susceptible persons.
• During clean up efforts, contaminants and microorganisms may be inhaled, which also add to lung disease complications. Clean up efforts will need to protect the workers and occupants from exposure to airborne particles and gases.
• The physical stress of dealing with the flood may also put a strain on people who are already ill or the elderly, providing an opportunity for respiratory infections and other sicknesses to arise.
Without electricity, people may turn to portable gasoline- or diesel-powered generators, gas stoves, charcoal stoves, grills, portable camping stoves and other devices to cook indoors. Carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. Exposure to this gas reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and can lead to death. Do not use ovens and gas ranges to heat your home. Do not burn charcoal or propane inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle or camper, and do not operate gasoline-powered or diesel-powered engines indoors.
The American Lung Association offers guidelines to help you and your family stay healthy after flooding. Damaged materials and furnishings should be discarded, including any items that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried within 24 to 48 hours. Simply drying out water will not remove the bacteria or toxins that can make people sick. Furniture and other personal belongings covered by water should be discarded to prevent mold growth. Other dangerous substances in floodwater can include chemicals, oil and gas which can saturate materials in the home and give off harmful gases.
For more information on cleaning up after a flood, contact the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA.
Deb Brown, President & CEO
American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic