On May 21, Governor Mike Parson declared a state of emergency in Missouri in response to severe weather and ongoing flooding. The Department of Health and Senior Services reminds Missourians to stay safe during cleanup of tornado and flood damage, as responding to damaged areas can pose serious health risks including issues such as:
- Downed or broken power lines caused by storms or in floodwater pose an electrocution hazard.
- Floodwater can contain raw sewage and pose other risks, including infectious diseases, hazardous chemical exposure, and debris that can cause injuries.
- Direct contact with floodwater can cause skin rashes, an infection of cuts or wounds or stomach illnesses including vomiting and diarrhea.
- Sharp objects and debris, such as glass or metal objects, may be lurking in debris from severe storms or in floodwater.
- Animals, insects, snakes and other reptiles that have been displaced due to storms or flooding may be submerged or hiding in debris in or near floodwaters.
When responding to severe weather or handling debris caused by severe weather or flooding, be sure to wear proper clothing and safety gear. And upon breaks or finishing work for the day exposed hands, feet and any other skin should be washed with clean soap and water. Clothing exposed to floodwater should be removed as soon as possible.
After working in or near debris or floodwaters, immediately wash any cuts or scrapes with soap and clean water, and monitor any cuts, scrapes or wounds for redness, swelling or drainage. Seek prompt medical attention if any of these symptoms develop.
Anyone involved with cleanup should have had a booster dose of tetanus-diphtheria (Td) vaccine within the past 10 years. Contact your local health department or your primary care physician if you need a Td vaccine. If you get a deep cut or puncture wound, seek immediate medical attention and ask about a tetanus booster.
Additionally, recent historic flooding may have created an environment hospitable to mold in affected homes and other buildings. Structures damaged by severe weather and strong winds may also have been opened for rain water to enter, and can also create an environment for mold to grow. Proper cleanup is key to protecting health and preventing illness.
If mold is present, individuals with certain allergies may exhibit symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, upper respiratory irritation, cough and eye irritation. Additionally, exposure to excessive amounts of mold can cause an increase in the frequency or severity of asthma symptoms.
DHSS offers the following tips to clean mold safely and properly:
- Wear personal protective equipment such as gloves, a mask and goggles to protect your eyes, nose, mouth and skin.
- Throw away any items that were wet with rain water or flood water and couldn’t be cleaned and dried completely within 24-48 hours. Take photos of any items discarded for insurance purposes.
- Flood-related mold on non-porous surfaces should be cleaned with a solution of one part bleach to ten parts water. Use caution: do not breathe fumes and avoid contact with skin.
- Open all doors and windows while you are working in the building, and leave as many open as you safely can when you leave.
- Use fans and dehumidifiers to remove moisture when electricity is safe to use
- Do not cover mold. Remove it instead. Painting or caulking over mold will not prevent it from growing.
As cleanup efforts continue, DHSS and local public health staff are working in affected areas throughout the state to help restaurants, groceries and other food-related businesses reopen quickly and safely for you and your family. These establishments are required to be inspected before reopening where DHSS and local public health staff help identify and correct any potential risks.
There are many precautions you should take when handling food, kitchen appliances and cooking utensils stored in storm damaged or flooded homes as well.
Sanitization: Items that can be sanitized should be washed with soap and clean water and rinsed with clean water, then sanitized in one of the following methods:
- Place in water. Bring water to a boil, and boil for a minimum of three minutes, or
- Place in a freshly-made solution of one teaspoon of unscented liquid 5.25 percent chlorine bleach per gallon of safe drinking water for 1 minute.
Allow items to air dry completely before using or storing.
Safe drinking water: It is important to establish a source of safe drinking water in your home. You will need this not just for drinking, but for proper sanitization of items in contact with flood waters also.
Bottled water that did not come in contact with flood water is safe to drink. Tap water may be used, but may need to be boiled first. If you have a private well, water samples should be collected and tested before consuming after a flood. You may contact your local public health agency or DHSS at 573-751-3334 to obtain a free well water testing kit.
Sorting food items: Many food items are not edible if stored in a storm damaged or flooded building. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out, and never try to determine safety by tasting foods. Tasting and smelling are not reliable methods of detecting bacteria.
Residents should throw out any food that may have come in contact with debris or flood waters. This includes any food not in a waterproof container such as cardboard boxes, bottles and jars with screw caps, home-canned items and containers with pull tops.
Commercially canned items in metal cans and food in retort pouches like those commonly used to package tuna may be sanitized and saved.
If the home lost power: Refrigerated items generally remain unspoiled if the power was out for less than four hours and the door remained closed. Frozen items may be safely refrozen if ice crystals remain visible in the food.
Handling cooking utensils: Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers. You can sanitize and save all other cooking and eating utensils.
DHSS urges residents to be extremely cautious with food and cooking utensils stored in storm damaged or flooded buildings. Stored food and cooking utensils can become home to growing bacteria like salmonella and listeria, which can cause potentially serious food-borne illnesses. The bottom line is: when in doubt, throw it out.