Health and Safety Questions


Emergency Related Health and Safety Questions

Drinking water

– Flood waters contain disease causing microorganisms. If water treatment plants are affected by flood waters, residents should heed instructions from local authorities to boil their water before drinking it and for use in preparing meals. People should not use any ice that is made with potentially contaminated water. Restoring water service could take some time in some areas.

Emergency Response logo– Residents who are placed under a boil water notice should boil water at a rolling boil for one minute. This will kill any disease-causing microorganisms present in the water. The "flat" taste of boiled water can be improved by pouring it back and forth from one clean container into another (aeration), by allowing it to stand for a few hours, or by adding a pinch of salt for each quart of water boiled. Drinking bottled water is also an option for people whose water is contaminated.

– If you can't boil water, add 6 drops of recently purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of clear water (double the number of drops for cloudy water), stir it well, and then let the water stand for 30 minutes before you use it. You also can use water-purifying tablets from your local pharmacy or sporting goods store. Note that using bleach or tablets may not kill some disease-causing microorganisms.

– People with compromised immune systems, including those who are on chemotherapy or are HIV positive, and living in the affected areas should be extremely cautious and consume only commercial bottled water.

– In the event of flooding near a private well, assume that the well water is contaminated until it can be tested for safety. Well water testing is available from the Fairfax County Health Department Laboratory.

Food Safety

– Residents are advised to wash their hands after handling food to protect themselves and others from spreading food-borne illnesses.

–Perishable foods including meats, dairy products, and eggs that haven't been refrigerated for more than two hours should be discarded because they are no longer safe to consume.

– Foods that have been contaminated by flooding should also be discarded.

– Be particularly careful to thoroughly disinfect surfaces that may come in contact with food, such as counter tops, pantry shelves, pots and pans, dishes and inside refrigerators, etc.

–If your power comes back on after food in your freezer has already begun to thaw, use an appliance thermometer to check the temperature in your freezer. Food stored in the freezer at 40 °F or below is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety. Remember you can't rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below, it is safe to refreeze.

– Health department personnel will assist restaurants that may have been flooded so they can reopen as soon as possible.

Prevent Injury

–Rescue workers and citizens working on clean up are at risk for cuts and puncture wounds. Washing out cuts with soap and water is the first priority. Wounds should receive tetanus evaluation.

–Use caution or seek professional assistance when removing fallen trees, cleaning up debris or using equipment, such as chain saws.

– Wear eye goggles while removing or cleaning up debris to prevent eye injuries.

–Whenever possible, use teams of two or more to move bulky objects.

–Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds (per person).

–Avoid manual lifting of heavy debris and building materials to prevent back injuries.

Candle Safety

– Use a flashlight instead of a candle whenever possible.

– Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.

–Keep candles away from items that can catch fire such as clothing, books, curtains, or flammable liquids.

–Use candle holders that are sturdy, won't tip over easily and are made from a material that can't burn.

– Keep candles out of reach of children.

– Try to avoid carrying a lit candle.

– NEVER use a candle for a light when checking pilot lights or fueling equipment.

Carbon Monoxide Precautions

–Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous to breathe.

– During flood cleanup, operate all gasoline-powered devices such as pumps, generators, and pressure washers outdoors and NEVER bring them indoors.

Mold Precautions and Clean-up

Excess moisture and standing water contribute to the growth of mold in homes and other buildings. When returning to a home that has been flooded, be aware that mold may be present and may be a health risk for your family. Controlling moisture in your home is the most critical factor for preventing mold growth.

If the cleanup is a large job, you should consult or contract with a professional who is experienced in cleaning up mold. If it is a smaller job that you can do yourself, then take these precautions:

– Protect your eyes with glasses or goggles.

– Wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during cleanup.

– Wear outer clothing (long-sleeved shirts and long pants) that can be easily removed and laundered or discarded.

– Shorten the amount of time you are in the area.

– Minimize the spread of airborne spores by using work practices such as decreasing foot traffic in the area; avoiding dry sweeping; avoiding rapid movements (such as jerking or throwing moldy objects), and covering moldy objects when removing them.

CDC Fact Sheet on coping with mold.

Mosquito-borne Disease Prevention

– Protect against mosquito bites by wearing long, loose and light-colored clothing.

– Use insect repellent with the smallest percentage of DEET necessary for the length of time you are exposed to mosquitoes, but no more than 50% for adults and 30% for children under 12.

– Turn over or remove containers in your yard where water collects, such as toys, plant trays and buckets.

Electrical Hazards

– If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel.

– Never enter flooded areas or touch electrical equipment if the ground is wet, unless you are certain that the power is off. NEVER handle a downed power line.

– Extreme caution is necessary when moving ladders and other equipment near overhead power lines to avoid inadvertent contact.

– Avoid moving trees or branches tangled up in power lines.

Heat Exhaustion & Fatigue-Related Injuries

– Reduce heat-related risks, drink a glass of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes, wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and work during the cooler hours of the day.

– Avoid physical exhaustion, and resume a normal sleep schedule as quickly as possible.

– Be alert to emotional exhaustion or strain and consult family members, friends, or professionals for emotional support.


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