With the widespread flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, Harris County Public Health is warning the public to take precautions when working in flood-damaged areas.
As cleanup continues, residents should be aware of the following health hazards:
Breathing mold can cause health consequences for some. In those who are susceptible, mold can cause allergy-like symptoms such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, and skin irritation. Mold may trigger asthma symptoms for some and no symptoms in others. Limit your exposure by wearing rubber gloves, eye protection, and a mask.
To slow mold growth, open windows and doors to provide fresh air, or use fans to dry your home. Keep humidity levels low. If you have power, use air conditioning and dehumidifiers.
Remove all wet material such as plaster, drywall, paneling, flooring, insulation, and other materials below the water line within 48 hours. Extract all standing water before cleaning and disinfecting to prevent further mold growth.
Wipe surfaces with a sanitizer. Products designed specifically to kill mold or a mixture of one cup of bleach to one gallon of water will work fine. Avoid using ammonia-based products. Never mix bleach with ammonia. If mold has already set in, additional scrubbing may be necessary.
Flood waters pick up any debris, bacteria, sewage, and vehicle waste in its path. Once it settles and stagnates, the water becomes a breeding ground for disease, snakes, and insects. Worst of all, flood water is notoriously murky, hiding dangerous debris below.
While there’s no way to avoid flood water completely during cleanup, avoid standing in any deep water, which may contain sharp objects, snakes, and other hazards. Wait until water drains to manageable levels before attempting to cleanup.
Shut off power before entering a damaged residence. Any downed power lines that come in contact with water can cause electrocution.
Keep children and pets from playing in flood water. Make sure to disinfect everything that came in contact with flood waters. Wash thoroughly with soap and water before handling any food.
Mosquitoes carry diseases such as West Nile, chikungunya, and Zika. With the extra standing water from Hurricane Harvey, mosquito populations are expected to increase. You can help control mosquito-borne diseases by limiting breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Don’t leave standing water in containers such as tires, flowerpots, or toys. Sweep up lawn clippings, leaves, tree limbs, and any other debris that may impede water flow and lead to pooling water.
Don’t leave standing water in your yard. Change water in birdbaths and pet water bowls every 3 to 5 days. Keep rain gutters free of debris, so water will not pool.
Don’t forget to protect yourself. Always wear insect repellent when outdoors.
Anyone with a boil water notice should follow the steps below to ensure they have clean drinking water. Do not use untreated tap water to wash or clean items, bathe, brush teeth, cook food, or make ice. Pets should also not be given untreated water.
Please note that even filtered water should be treated since most household filters do not remove bacteria.
The easiest way to stay safe is to use bottled water with a sealed top until the boil water notice is lifted. If using bottled water is not an option, you can sterilize tap water by bringing it to a rolling boil for 1 to 2 minutes. After it cools, the boiled water will be safe for drinking, cooking, or mixing with baby formula.
Another option is to disinfect your water. If water is clear, add 1/8 teaspoon of unscented bleach to 1 gallon of water. If water is cloudy, first filter it by running the water through a clean washcloth. Then add 1/4 teaspoon of unscented bleach to 1 gallon of the filtered water. Mix well and wait 30 minutes before drinking or using.
See if you have an unsafe drinking water notice here: publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/Resources/2017-Hurricane-Harvey
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Harris County Precinct 4
1001 Preston, Suite 950
Houston, Texas 77002