Clean-up Safety Precautions After a Flooding Disaster
There may be a great deal of debris around or in your home following a flood, and buildings may have shifted off their foundations or suffered other damage that may render them unstable. See the document on inspecting your home for safety precautions before entering your home, and during an interior inspection. When your local or First Nations government has declared it is safe for you to return home, there are steps you can take to make the transition easier and safer.
- Clean-up after a Flood (HealthLinkBC File #20)
- CMHC: Flood clean up and mould prevention
- Indoor Air Quality: Mould and Other Biological Contaminants (HealthLinkBC File #65b)
- Government of British Columbia: Recovering after a flood
- BCCDC guidance on using cleaners and disinfectants safely
Following the clean-up of buildings, you must remove flood-borne material from yards. For information on disposal services and regulations in your area, contact your municipality or regional district or consult the links found on the central B.C. Flood Response web page.
Floodwaters may have broken open vessels containing fuel, fertilizers, or other common household chemicals. Similarly, flood water may carry dangerous pathogens after mixing with sewage, municipal or agricultural waste, or animal carcasses. Several core principles of pathogen and chemical contamination after a flood should be kept in mind:
- Wear protective equipment such as boots, gloves, protective eyewear, and N95 respirators to reduce your risk of exposure to chemicals and pathogens
- The concentration of chemicals is usually higher in places where chemicals are stored or used, such as industrial facilities, garages, cellars, farms, etc . Enclosed spaces should be ventilated before entering.
- While some signs of possible chemical contamination are usually present – such as water colour, smell/odour, oil films, empty or damaged containers – many hazardous chemicals are colourless and odourless. Nevertheless, the presence of damaged, unlabelled chemical containers can be an indicator of potential chemical pollution.
- Chemical waste should be collected separately and disposed of in specially designated places.
- Wash your hands often and keep minor wounds clean and covered. If someone exposed to floodwater becomes sick or a wound becomes infected, see a doctor right away
Mould & Indoor Air Quality
Flooding can saturate insulation and wallboard, carpets and furniture which create favourable environments for mould development. Some moulds can affect people’s health, contributing to respiratory problems, allergies, and can irritate eyes, cause skin infections and rashes. Structures that have been closed and damp for even a few days may develop mould. Action to remove any wet or saturated items from the home and dry the home out should be taken early after flooding to reduce the opportunity for mould growth. The US CDC provides detailed resources on removing mould safely, or you may opt to hire a professional remediator. Be on the lookout for other indoor air quality hazards, such as asbestos, during remediation activities. Asbestos may already be present in older homes, but also occurs naturally and may be present in flood debris. Wear respiratory protection, such as an N95 respirator.
General information on health considerations of flood clean-up can be found in the following Health File entitled, "Clean-up after a Flood". Information on indoor air quality and mould can be found on the “Indoor Air Quality: Mould and Other Biological Contaminants” Health File.
Some people may attempt to re-occupy homes before services have been restored. If so, never attempt to use devices like gas ranges, camp stoves or other combustion devices to heat the home, as this may result in lethal carbon monoxide poisoning. Likewise, never use a generator in or near the building.
Power outages & Electrical safety
CAUTION: All electrical wiring in buildings that has been partially or fully covered by flood water must be checked by a qualified electrician or electrical inspector before being put into service again. Any loose wires should be considered "live" and a definite hazard.
If there are no flood waters in your home you can probably safely use your power, provided power is available in your area. Downed power lines, damaged electrical equipment, or using electric tools in standing water can be lethal. See BC Hydro for guidance on restoring electricity to a flooded home and see this helpful resource for identifying other hazards.
Natural gas safety
If water levels were high enough to cover the gas meter, call FortisBC or local gas provider to check your meter and regulator before using your gas system. Flood waters may have shifted your home or caused other stresses to the gas piping, damaged gas appliances, or shifted propane tanks.
CAUTION: If you smell gas, or if there is evidence of a gas leak, don't enter the building. Turn your gas off at the main shut-off valve on the inlet pipe next to your gas meter : Using a wrench or other suitable tool, give the valve a quarter turn in either direction so that it is crosswise to the pipe. Call the 24-hour emergency line at 1-800-663-9911, your local fire department or 9-1-1.
For more information on natural gas safety, visit the FortisBC website.
Vermin, pests, and dead animals
During a flood, wild animals and vermin may become flooded out of their homes and will be searching for new places to live. Wounded or disoriented animals may have taken refuge in your property. Enter cautiously, make lots of noise, and leave an escape route. Steps can be taken to reduce the chance that their next home will be your home. See the BC Health File “Getting Rid of Rodents (Rats and Mice)”
You should avoid making direct contact with live wild animals as they might be carriers of disease. If you must handle dead animals, standard health and safety practices should be followed:
- Wear vinyl, PVC, nitrile, rubber or latex gloves; cut-resistant gloves can be worn underneath.
- Avoid punctures or cuts from bills, claws, or instruments used during handling of dead animals
- Wash gloved hands and then bare hands well with soap and running water (this is an added precautionary measure)
- Dispose in household waste or call a licensed pest control company to assist you
Mosquitoes are a nuisance and some are capable of carrying disease. After flood water begins to recede, take steps to reduce standing water on your property that could become mosquito breeding grounds. If Mosquitoes and other insects have become a nuisance, consider using mosquito repellents such as DEET. For more information, see the HealthLink BC File "Insect Repellents and DEET"
Sewage Disposal Systems
Septic systems can be affected by flood waters as the water table rises. You can minimize the impact by reducing the amount of water handled by your system. If you septic field and tank area are flooded, you should discontinue use of your system and do not empty your septic tank until the water table recedes. For detailed information on steps that should be taken to restore your system and to ensure your health, please see the “Sewerage Systems and Flooding” Fact Sheet and the information bulletin “Information for owners of sewer systems in flooded areas.”
Like drinking water systems, septic systems may need to be assessed before use if the field has become saturated during a flood.
Contacts and further information
For the most recent information on flooding, please see the EmergencyInfoBC's Current Flooding Information. For more information on health hazards after flooding events visit the BC CDC, or HealthLinkBCs Flooding and Your Health. You can also contact your local Health Authority directly.
If you have additional concerns on specific topics, please look to the following resources:
- Drinking Water Concerns – Contact the Drinking Water Officer contact in your area
- Onsite Sewage Concerns – Contact the local Health authority’s Environmental Health Office
- Disaster Preparedness and Recovery – Visit the Emergency Management BC website
- Livestock and Poultry - see Agriculture Sector Emergency Preparedness Tips