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During and After the Storm

by David Lee

Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Dangers

  • Hurricanes can cause power outages that may prompt people to utilize devices which could produce carbon monoxide (CO), an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that is highly poisonous.
  • Depending on the level of exposure, CO may cause fatigue, weakness, chest pains for those with heart disease, shortness of breath upon exertion, nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, lack of coordination, impaired vision, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, death.
  • Improper venting and use of a generator or other gasoline-propelled equipment may cause carbon monoxide poisoning. The NYSDOH recommends the following precautions to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
  • Do not burn charcoal or gas grills inside a house, garage, vehicle, tent or fireplace.
  • NEVER use a generator indoors, including in homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces, and other enclosed or partially enclosed areas, even with ventilation.
  • Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO build-up in the home.
  • ALWAYS locate the unit outdoors on a dry surface, away from doors, windows, vents, and air conditioning equipment that could allow CO to come indoors.
  • Follow the instructions that come with your generator. Locate the unit outdoors and away from doors, windows, vents, and air conditioning equipment that could allow CO to come indoors.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer's installation instructions.
  • Test your CO alarms frequently and replace dead batteries. Remember that you cannot see or smell CO, and portable generators can produce high levels of CO very quickly.
  • If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air RIGHT AWAY. DO NOT DELAY.
  • If you have a poisoning emergency, call your nearest New York Poison Information Center. Post the phone number in a visible location.
  • If the victim has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911 immediately.

Drinking Water Safety

A hurricane can cause severe flooding that affects drinking water supplies. Public or municipal drinking water systems are evaluated by the State and county health departments to determine whether boil water advisories or other actions are needed to ensure safe drinking water. If a boil water advisory is issued for your community, bring the water to a full rolling boil and maintain the full boil for at least one minute. Any time your drinking water appears cloudy, muddy, or even slightly discolored, it should not be used for drinking or cooking until it is disinfected.

Private drinking water wells that have been flooded should be tested before they are used. Contact your local health department for information about residential well testing and disinfection.

For more information on drinking water and private drinking water wells, call DOH's Environmental Health information line at 1-800-458-1158.

Food Safety Tips

Flooding that results from a hurricane can result in foodborne illness. To help protect against foodborne illnesses, discard any foods that may be contaminated after a flood, including:

  • Frozen foods that have been thawed, if they have not been kept refrigerated at 45 degrees F. or lower, or consumed immediately.
  • Any foods exposed to flood waters because of possible contamination.
  • Food that is packed in cardboard containers, screw top jars, or bottles.
  • Canned foods when swelling, rusting or serious denting is visible.

Should I have my home tested for mold?

Sampling can be expensive. The results are also difficult to interpret partially because we have very limited information about what level of mold exposure is associated with health effects. In some cases, knowing the type of mold that is present can be helpful, but for most cases, sampling is unnecessary. Overall, the best practice regardless of the type or amount of mold is to promptly clean up any mold growth in your home and to correct the water problem that caused it.

Cleaning Up Mold: How to get rid of it

  • The first step to mold cleanup is to control the moisture problem. The source of the water must be identified and corrected. Porous materials with extensive mold growth should be discarded (e.g., drywall, carpeting, paper, and ceiling tiles).
  • All wet materials must be thoroughly dried. If that is not possible, they should be discarded.
  • Mold growing on hard surfaces (e.g. wood and concrete) can be cleaned. Small areas can be scrubbed with a cleaning rag wetted with diluted detergent.
  • Rubber gloves and a dust mask are recommended for jobs other than routine cleaning. For a large mold problem or if you are highly sensitive to mold, an experienced professional should do the work.
  • In areas where it is impractical to eliminate the moisture source, a 10% bleach solution can be used to keep mold growth under control. In areas that can be kept dry, bleach is not necessary, as mold cannot grow in the absence of moisture. When using bleach, ensure that enough fresh air is available because bleach may cause eye, nose, or throat irritation.
  • Continue to monitor the area for new mold growth and signs of moisture. This may indicate the need for further repairs or material removal.
  • Further questions can be directed to:
    Center for Environmental Health
    Bureau of Toxic Substance Assessment
    Empire State Plaza-Corning Tower, Room 1743
    Albany, New York 12237
    (518) 402-7800

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