The New Jersey Department of Health reminds residents to take steps to protect their health during storm cleanup efforts.
“Effects from storms, including flooding, mold growth, power outages and downed trees, can put residents’ health and safety at risk if not properly addressed,” state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.
“It is important to be aware of post-storm safety guidelines as extreme storms become more frequent.”
The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30, which provides an opportunity to remind residents about the dangers of carbon monoxide exposure, mold removal and other hazards during severe weather.
Carbon monoxide poisoning from improper generator use
Carbon monoxide (or CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. High levels of carbon monoxide can cause brain damage and even death, which is why it has been called the “silent killer.” However, exposure to carbon monoxide from generators is preventable.
In the two weeks following Superstorm Sandy, 398 patients were treated for CO exposure in New Jersey hospital emergency rooms, while only 14 patients were treated for exposure two weeks before the storm.
- Only use generators outside, more than 20 feet away from your home, doors and windows
- Install battery-operated CO detectors near every sleeping area in your home
- Check CO detectors regularly to ensure they are working properly
- Follow generator manufacturer guidelines
- Run a generator in a basement, garage, or enclosed structure, even if doors or windows are open
- Prop a generator up outside against an open window or door
- The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.”
If you are experiencing a carbon monoxide poisoning emergency if someone has stopped breathing or is difficult to wake up, go outside to get fresh air immediately and call 9-1-1.
Also, call your local fire department or gas company for a safety check, and do not go back into your home until the fire department tells you it is safe.
Mold removal and cleaning
Mold typically grows in areas of increased moisture. After a storm or flood, any area damaged by water could be subjected to mold.
To determine if mold is present in a home or business, examine the walls, ceilings and floors for signs of water damage. Mold can also be recognized by a musty, earthy smell or foul stench.
Mold exposure can cause nasal and throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. People with mold allergies and those with chronic lung illness may have more severe reactions to mold exposure.
- Inspect your home or business for visible signs of mold or musty odors.
- If signs of mold are found, have a qualified professional conduct a thorough inspection
- Use proper protective equipment, such as gloves, masks, boots, protective eyewear and respirators, when handling and discarding moldy items
- Eliminate moisture from the environment by using fans and dehumidifiers and by opening doors and windows to allow fresh air to circulate through the building
- Open windows and doors to get fresh air while using bleach
- Clean all hard surfaces with a bleach and water solution (follow label directions to dilute bleach properly)
- Throw away absorbent materials that have been in contact with floodwaters, such as carpeting, couches, mattresses and insulation
- Throw away any items that have been wet for two days or longer – they likely have mold growing inside even if you can’t see it
- Remove sheetrock to at least one foot above the high-water mark
- Wash all clothing worn during the cleanup in hot water, separate from other laundry
- Mix bleach with ammonia, acids, or other chemicals
- Remove mold if you have asthma or allergies
- Food and drinking water safety
It’s important to know what foods and food containers can be salvaged and which should be thrown away after storm or floodwaters enter your home. Remember: “When in doubt, throw it out!”
- Sealed, undamaged cans should be sanitized with soap and hot water
- Any food that may have come into contact with floodwaters
- Any food that is not in a waterproof container (including screw caps, snap lids, pull tops and crimped caps)
- Cardboard juice/milk/baby formula boxes
- Home-canned foods
- Cans that are damaged
- Any perishable food (including meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs) that may have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or more
- Foods in the freezer that may have come into contact with raw meat juices during a power outage
Individuals that have lost power should keep their refrigerator and freezer doors closed for as long as possible to maintain the cold temperature.
Food will stay cold in the refrigerator for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
Protect yourself from floodwaters
When coming into contact with floodwaters or working in a flood-affected area, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself against injury and infectious disease.
- Wear proper protective equipment such as gloves, masks, boots, protective eyewear and respirators
- Wear a life jacket if you must be in or near floodwaters or rising water
- Be aware of your surroundings: broken glass, sharp pieces of wood and other sharp items (nails, screws, sheet metal) may be present in floodwaters
- Wash your hands as often as possible
- Take care of cuts or wounds immediately by cleaning thoroughly and applying a clean, dry dressing.
- Drive through a flooded area. Vehicles can be swept away or may stall in moving water.
- Individuals exposed to floodwaters with an open wound (not minor cuts and abrasions) who have not had a tetanus booster shot in 10 years should receive a tetanus booster.
Downed trees from severe storms can block roadways, take down power lines and damage homes and property.
Serious injuries can also occur from post-storm tree hazards, especially while working with/near power lines, chainsaws, woodchippers, dead or diseased trees, and storm-downed or damaged trees.
- Leave it to the professionals if possible: Find a licensed tree-care professional at www.njtreeexperts.org
- Wear a hard hat, protective goggles and hearing protection while doing tree work
- Wear loose-fitting clothing while using a woodchipper
- Never reach into the feed table area of a woodchipper or use your foot; use a push stick instead
Animals and insects
If your pet has been exposed to floodwaters and may have gotten sick as a result, wash your pet with pet shampoo, baby shampoo, or Dawn dish detergent.
Rinse the fur completely with clean water and watch for signs of illness, such as diarrhea, vomiting, inflamed skin and weakness. Contact your veterinarian or a veterinary hospital in your vicinity for medical treatment if your pet becomes ill.
Regional veterinary emergency hospitals provide medical services on nights, weekends and holidays.
If the flood occurred between May-October, New Jersey could experience an increased mosquito population because of an increase in standing water.
County mosquito control units work hard to decrease mosquito populations. Still, residents should also make sure to employ personal protection measures such as limiting time outdoors during peak mosquito activity times (dusk and dawn), wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and using mosquito repellents.
Residents should also empty any containers that collect standing water and clean up and refill birdbaths every few days.