FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – The Cumberland County Department of Public Health wants residents to be aware of contamination dangers caused by floodwaters in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Well water contamination; cleaning and disinfecting homes and housewares; risk of infection from bodily contact with floodwaters and the potential for mold growth are the chief environmental health concerns.
Wells completely submerged by floodwaters can be easily contaminated. Untested wells should be safe for general use, but should not be used for drinking water until the well is deemed safe. If you suspect your well could be contaminated, have your well re-chlorinated by a Certified Well Contractor. The Cumberland County Environmental Health Section will test wells at no charge if the owner has the well re-chlorinated and provides a receipt. For more information, please contact the County’s Environmental Health Section at 910-433-3667 or 910-433-3668. As a reminder, all County offices are closed today, but will re-open Thursday, Sept. 20.
Floodwater Contact with Packaged Food, Plates, Utensils
Environmental Health reminds residents of immediate risks to homes caused by floodwaters and offers the following tips:
- Do not eat food that has come into contact with floodwaters. Discard any food in a non-waterproof container if it has been in contact with or may have contacted floodwaters. Undamaged, commercially canned foods can be saved if properly disinfected (cleaning instructions are provided below).
- Food containers with screw-caps, snap lids and home canned foods should be discarded if they have contacted floodwaters because they cannot be disinfected after contact with floodwaters.
- Paper products and other single service items such as plastic ware, Styrofoam, etc., cannot be adequately cleaned after contact with flood waters and should be thrown away.
- Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers if they have contacted floodwaters as the sanitation of these items cannot be ensured.
- Thoroughly wash metal pans, ceramic dishes and utensils with soap and hot water. Sanitize by boiling them in clean water, or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water.
- Discard refrigerated foods if power was lost for four hours or more. If unsure of what to do with food or other items that have been in contact with floodwaters, remember the slogan, “When in doubt, throw it out.”
The following are tips for disinfecting undamaged canned goods and reusable food and cooking ware:
- Undamaged cans may be disinfected using the following instructions: Remove paper labels (paper labels can harbor bacteria) and re-label the can with a permanent marker. Use a brush to remove any dirt or silt and wash the containers in a strong detergent solution. Throw away damaged cans and do not use.
- Food containers must be rinsed and scrubbed. Removing dirt and silt and then rinsing is important because chlorine solution won’t work well if cans are dirty.
- Immerse the clean, rinsed containers in a lukewarm (75 to 120 degrees F) solution of chlorine for two minutes. Use two tablespoons of five percent chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Chlorine loses its effectiveness when it is in a solution and open to the air or when it contacts unclean materials.
- Change the disinfecting solution frequently. Dump it out and mix a fresh solution if the water gets cloudy.
- Take cans out and air dry before opening or strong.
- Use foods from disinfected containers as soon as possible because the cans my rust after being washed.
Bodily Contact with Floodwaters
Microorganisms and other contaminants pose a risk of infectious disease through bodily contact with floodwaters or standing water left by flooding. The following are tips to reduce the risk of infection.
- Avoid standing water if possible. If you do have to walk through standing water, wear waterproof shoes or boots. Do not walk barefoot in floodwater.
- Do not let children play in standing water and never let them drink the water.
- Consider health issues that may put you more at risk. Diabetics are more at risk of infection from water making contact with a cut or wound.
Preventing, Managing Mold Growth
Mold growth inside homes affected by floodwater is a health concern. As a reminder, Environmental Health does NOT inspect private residences or businesses not under the health department’s jurisdiction to verify whether or not mold is present. Even if an establishment is one that the health department inspects, Environmental Health cannot qualify something as mold. It can only be identified as black mold build up. The following are information and tips about mold in homes.
- Furnishings and fixtures that are porous or absorbent should be discarded if they have been in contact with floodwaters. Examples are upholstered furniture such as chairs, sofas, couches, bar stools, etc.
- Any tables or chairs that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized should be discarded.
- Books and paper products that cannot be cleaned should be discarded.
- Clothes and drapes can be washed with potable water containing a sanitizing agent, such as bleach. Cloth items which say “dry clean only” may be salvaged by dry cleaning.
Floors, Walls and Ceilings
If floodwater has soaked sheetrock, insulation or ceiling tiles, remove these items to 30 inches above the flood line. Paneling may be removed and saved. Proper air circulation must be maintained to allow for the drying of studs and walls. Wet studs and sills do not need to be replaced if allowed to dry properly. Flooded portions of studs and sills should be cleaned and treated with bleach and water solution.
Undamaged walls, hard surface floors and other surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected with a solution of one-quarter cup of bleach to one gallon of water. Vinyl wall covering should be removed and cleaned properly or discarded. Ceilings should be evaluated to determine if roof leaks have caused damage to ceiling tiles. Any acoustic tiles that are not cleanable must be discarded.
Flooring such as linoleum must be discarded if soaked, but tiles and vinyl flooring can be saved if cleaned and sanitized. Tiles and vinyl should be removed when on wooden subfloor so that it can be properly dried. Wall-to-wall carpet and padding must be discarded if soaked.
Information and tips are available on the Centers for Disease Control’s “Homeowners and Renter’s Guide to Mold Cleanup After Disasters” at https://www.cdc.gov/mold/pdfs/Homeowners_and_Renters_Guide.pdf.
It is still summer and mosquitoes are still active and breeding. Mosquitoes only need an ounce of water to reproduce and larva hatch from eggs in as little as three days. As floodwaters recede and standing water drops, you can still take steps to help control mosquitoes. The “Tip-And-Toss” can be used. Simply tip over any containers with standing water such as tires, flower pots, buckets, jars, barrels and trash can lids.
For more information, call the Health Department at 910-433-3600 or go to co.cumberland.nc.us. The Health Department is located at 1235 Ramsey St., Fayetteville.