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Flood Clean-Up Requires More Attention

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

During the past week, a public health survey of residents in areas affected by flooding indicate that some important injury-prevention messages are not getting through. While many people remember hearing messages about vaccinations and mold, few say they remember what to do to avoid injuries and poisoning-by far the most common health risks associated with flood recovery.

The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) reminds Iowans to:

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* Be especially cautious when cleaning up after a flood. According to the survey, about 80 percent of injuries sustained so far have happened during clean-up activities. However, fewer than half of the respondents remember hearing how to prevent injuries via TV, Web sites, word of mouth, newspapers or radio. To avoid injury, wear sturdy shoes, gloves and other protective gear. Also keep your feet from prolonged exposure to moisture and dry your feet regularly.

* During flood clean-up, never use a gas-powered generator in an enclosed area, such as a garage or basement. Unfortunately, about 50 percent of people using gas-powered generators or power washers did not hear messages about using this equipment safely to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled. Every year, more than 500 people die in the U.S. from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Since flooding began in Iowa, there has been a sharp increase in carbon monoxide poisoning cases.

* Wear a dust mask only during activities that could stir up mold spores or excessive dust. Otherwise, take the mask off. According to the survey, about three-fourths of respondents thought they should always wear a mask during flood clean-up. In some, cases wearing a mask the entire time can actually present a health risk as it can cause stress on the lungs and heart, and contribute to heat exhaustion. Wear a mask only when working directly with areas that may contain mold spores or excessive dust. Otherwise, ensure good air circulation by opening windows and doors.

The findings are the result of a survey of nearly 400 residents in Benton, Johnson, Linn and Louisa Counties conducted last week with the assistance of about 15 volunteer students from the University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa and Des Moines University. The survey was coordinated by IDPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with support from the University Hygienic Laboratory and local county health departments.