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Flooding and health risks: how to protect your family

Posted at 4:55 PM, May 28, 2019

NIAGARA COUNTY, N.Y. (WKBW) — As flooding fears continue to rise along Lake Ontario, the Niagara County Public Health Director is reminding people of steps they can take to prevent health risks associated with home flooding.

These problems include bacterial and viral contamination from sewage and mold growth from residual moisture.

Flooding may cause wastewater to back up into homes that have private septic systems. Residents with municipal sewer systems may also experience sewage back-ups. These back-ups can be caused by surging floodwater overwhelming older systems or power outages during a storm surge. Sewage contains bacteria, viruses, and other germs that can cause disease. The most common signs and symptoms after exposure to raw sewage are stomach and bowel distress (nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea) and skin problems such as rashes and sores.

“Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup if sewage has backed up into your home,” said Niagara County Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton, “Remove and discard contaminated household goods such as wall coverings, rugs, cloth and drywall that cannot be disinfected." When disinfecting, use three tablespoons of bleach to one gallon of water. NEVER mix bleach with ammonia-based cleaners.

If you have an open cut or sore you should try to avoid contact with sewage-contaminated floodwater. If exposed, experts say to keep skin (especially any cuts or sores) as clean as possible by washing with soap and clean water. Apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a sterile bandage to reduce the risk of infection. If you have deep cuts and/or puncture wounds and have not had a tetanus vaccination within the past 10 years, or are unsure of the date of the last tetanus shot, get a tetanus booster.

For additional information on managing sewage back-ups, click here.

For information on drinking water and food guidance after a flood, click here.

If you have additional questions or concerns about flooding health risks, please call Niagara County Department of Health's Environmental Health Division at 716-439-7444.