Protect yourself when cleaning your home after a flood (09/04/30)

NB 581

April 30, 2009

FREDERICTON (CNB) - New Brunswickers are reminded to be cautious when cleaning their homes following a flood, said Dr. Eilish Cleary, chief medical officer of health.

"In a flood situation, affected residents must take steps to protect themselves while cleaning their homes to reduce possible health risks," said Cleary.

Cleary emphasized the importance of thorough hand-washing after any contact with flood water. The water may be contaminated after having washed over agricultural lands or after having encountered sewage treatment facilities. There is an increased risk of exposure to disease-causing organisms in the water.

For personal protection during clean-up:

Water and wastes may be removed by pumping, pails, shovels, etc. Wastes should be buried at least 15 metres (50 feet) away from the source of any water supply. Lime may be used to cover wastes before covering with soil.

Use a good soap or detergent, "elbow grease," and lots of hot water when cleaning. Thoroughly scrub walls, solid floors, and ceilings with detergent or soap and water.

Avoid household bleach. Organic content and pH in flood waters may render bleach ineffective. For significant flood or water damage, you may need to consult with an air quality specialist or professional cleaner.

Any appliance that has been partially or wholly immersed in water is no longer insulated; electrical components may have been damaged. It is recommended not to reuse these appliances.

Appliances that have not been immersed flood water and any food contact surfaces should be cleaned as follows:

Solid wood or metal furniture may be cleaned with a household detergent solution, wiping clean and then wiping dry.

Furniture should be left to dry outside before furniture polish is applied where needed. Upholstered furniture and mattresses soiled by flood waters should not be used.

Homeowners should get approval from assessors, insurance agents and other relevant agencies before discarding or destroying any furniture or equipment.

Care must be taken to avoid the health hazards of mildew and bacterial mould, which may build up on such areas as wall structures as a result of flooding.

Water-soaked walls and insulation should be removed, and the space and studding allowed to dry thoroughly. Walls constructed of gyproc, plaster or wood will dry out in time, but insulation in these walls is no longer effective.

An oil spill in a house may be a contamination problem and difficult to correct. Peat moss may be used to remove floating oil. If only finished basement walls have been affected, the odour may be eliminated by discarding the wall covering, studding, insulation and any other permeable material.

Caution should be taken in using electrical equipment during cleaning since the fumes could ignite and cause an explosion. Dispersants should be avoided in cases where oil tanks have been ruptured.

For more information, you should contact one of the regional Health Protection Branch offices listed in the blue pages of the telephone book, or visit


MEDIA CONTACT: Meghan Cumby, communications, Department of Health, 506-457-3522.