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Hurricane Harvey: Health Tips for Entering a Flooded Home

ATS Community -

We have all seen and felt the destruction caused by hurricane Harvey, a category 4 storm that made landfall on August 25th. Harvey is the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States and it has created devastating flooding in and around southeastern Texas. Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses have been flooded and upwards of 50,000 people have been displaced. To date, 47 people have lost their lives as a result of this hurricane which is estimated to become the worst natural disaster in US history. Now that Harvey has moved away from the area, thousands are looking to return to their homes where serious environmental health problems may arise.  Each year more than 150 people die from the result of flooding.  Importantly, many of the deaths occur during the re-entry process from electrocution, carbon monoxide poisoning, or other accidents occurring during remediation.

Members of the Education Committee have teamed up with members from the Assembly on Environmental, Occupational, and Population Health to share and communicate the following key information on this topic to patients and providers who are affected by the flooding.

Top Health Considerations for Entering a Flooded Home

  1. Electricity and gas should be turned off immediately to avoid shock and gas leak. (for information on how to do this click here).
  2. Consider all mud and water that has entered the home to be contaminated.  Wear personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, glasses) as you re-enter the area and until cleanup is complete.
  3. Soiled or saturated porous materials such as carpets and furniture should be discarded to prevent mold and other microbial growth.
  4. Solid materials can be cleaned with water and detergent.  Use extreme caution if using bleach.  Read labels on household cleaners and avoid mixing them together.
  5. If you know or suspect your home contains lead or asbestos, do not attempt remediation without first calling 1 (800) 424-LEAD or the EPA TSCA Assistance Service at (202) 554-1404 for asbestos.
  6. Pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are particularly susceptible to the infectious complications that may arise and should avoid the area until cleanup is complete.
  7. Mold growth may be particularly hazardous for those with pre-existing allergic or other respiratory disease.
  8. Should any new health symptoms arise during cleanup, the individual should contact their local health care providers as soon as possible.

For more information please visit: 

American Lung Association document "Keeping Your Lungs Safe During Flood Cleanup

American Red Cross document "Repairing Your Flooded Home"

United States Environmental Protection Agency "Flood Cleanup: Avoiding Indoor Air Quality Problems"

Should you have further questions do not hesitate to contact one of our team members. 

Together with you,

W. Graham Carlos MD (wcarlos@iu.edu) Indiana University, ATS Education Committee

Shazia Jamil MD (sjamil@ucsd.edu) Scripps Clinic and University of California San Diego, School of Medicine, ATS Education Committee

Charles Dela Cruz MD, PhD (Charles.delacruz@yale.edu) Yale University, Dept. of Internal Medicine and Microbial Pathogenesis, Director, Center of Pulmonary Infection Research and Treatment, ATS Education Committee

Howard Kipen MD, MPH (hk475@eohsi.rutgers.edu) Rutgers University, Chair of ATS Assembly on Environmental, Occupational, and Population Health

Marc Moss MD (marc.moss@ucdenver.edu) ATS President

Last Reviewed: September 2017