Flood cleanup – watch out for mold and poor IAQ

Clean up with air quality in mind

Flooding can strike anywhere around waterways, especially in the spring, when lakes and rivers swell up with melt-water.

This year, major floods have already hit areas in North and South America and other parts of the world, including Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, California, Chile, Peru, Indonesia and Russia, just to name a few.

When water levels rise, those living closest to the affected zones are told to prepare emergency kits, move as many things as possible off the floor in the basement and ground floors and possibly build sandbag dikes around the home to divert the water.

Others may try to keep homes dry with pumps and dehumidifiers.

Sometimes, water infiltration is simply unavoidable. And then it’s the aftermath of floods that can become costly and potentially dangerous.

Here are five things to watch out for when dealing with a flood cleanup:

1 - Contaminated mud

Flood waters are rarely clean, and they may leave behind contaminants and mud.

The EPA warns that mud water may even contain raw sewage. If you rely on well water for drinking, have it tested first. Shovel out the mud and use a hose to wash away remnants of mud. Clean and disinfect surfaces.

Seek medical attention if you experience upset stomach, headache or flu-like discomfort from exposure to contaminated flood water.

Hot water and a heavy duty cleaner followed up by a chlorine solution will do the trick. When dealing with toxins, chemicals and similar substances, make sure the space is well ventilated.

2 - Ruined materials

Carpets, drywall, appliances, furniture and other materials in the affected areas need to be inspected thoroughly. Replace anything that has been in contact with flood water.

Clean and disinfect those materials that can be salvaged. Dry rugs, bedding and clothing outside. Before replacing a floor, make sure the foundation is dry.

3 - Mold growth

Get the water and humidity levels under control as soon as possible, as mold can start to grow after 24-48 hours of contact with enough moisture.

Use an air conditioner or dehumidifier to reduce humidity, or open windows and use fans to circulate the air in the home and dry indoor areas.

If you discover mold and mildew on items, take them outside to remove it. That way, you won’t spread mold spores in the home. Clean and disinfect surfaces.

Be careful when dealing with mold, as EPA warns that exposure to mold spores can cause allergic reactions - either immediately or after the fact.

4 - Electrical hazards

Make sure the electrical system is shut off and inspected by an electrician before turning it back on.

If the water levels were high, mud may have filled junction boxes and outlets. All the wiring has to dry before using the electrical system again.

Flooded electrical equipment is usually a write-off, experts say, and the system should be checked for grounding and bonding.

5 - Pests and microorganisms

High levels of moisture in the home attract many pests, including carpenter ants and termites, centipedes, millipedes, earwigs, pillbugs, silverfish and more. Keep an eye out and deal with infestations immediately.

Check the outside of the home for cracks and openings that would let them in and get those humidity levels under control.

Bacteria and viruses also love high humidity. Reduce their numbers with proper ventilation, source control and air purification.

Find out how air purifiers can help improve IAQ after floods. 

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