MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Alabama Department of Public Health is asking the public to heed all health and safety warnings as areas of the state deal with significant flooding and damage caused by Tropical Storm Sally, which was downgraded to a hurricane Wednesday afternoon.
State health officer Dr. Scott Harris warns that in addition, the public should continue COVID-19 preventive actions, including frequent hand-washing or using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, wearing a face mask, and social distancing.
The ADPH advises to keep yourself and others safe by being aware of potential hazards and protective actions needed after power outages and in cleanup activities. This includes the following:
Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Never use generators, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, basement, garage or camper--or even outside near an open window. Keep these devices at least 20 feet away from any door, window or vent and also use a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector any time you use one of these devices.
CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if breathed. When power outages occur during emergencies such as hurricanes, people often try to use alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating, cooling or cooking. CO from these sources can build up in a home, garage or camper and poison the people and animals inside. Look to friends or a community shelter for help. If you must use an alternative source of fuel or electricity, be sure to use it only outside and away from open windows.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms. Consult a health care professional right away if these symptoms occur.
Power outages associated with hurricane storm force winds can cause concerns about the safety of frozen and refrigerated foods. As a general rule, a full upright or chest freezer will keep foods frozen for about two days without power.
A partially full freezer will keep foods frozen for about one day. This time may be extended by keeping the door shut. A refrigerator will keep foods cool for four to six hours if the door is kept closed as much as possible.
Any thawed foods that have been at room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded. Foods still containing ice crystals can be refrozen, although the quality of the food may decrease. Foods that have thawed to refrigerator temperatures (that is, no more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit) can also be cooked and then refrozen.
Follow these safeguards against injury while using a chainsaw:
- Operate, adjust and maintain the saw according to manufacturer’s instructions provided in the manual accompanying the chainsaw.
- Properly sharpen chain saw blades and properly lubricate the blade with bar and chain oil. Additionally, the operator should periodically check and adjust the tension of the chainsaw blade to ensure good cutting action.
- Choose the proper size of chain saw to match the job, and include safety features such as a chain brake, front and rear hand guards, stop switch, chain catcher and spark arrester.
- Wear the appropriate protective equipment, including hard hat, safety glasses, hearing protection, heavy work gloves, cut-resistant leg wear (chainsaw chaps) that extend from the waist to the top of the foot, and boots which cover the ankle.
- Avoid contact with power lines until the lines are verified as being de-energized.
- Always cut at waist level or below to ensure that you maintain secure control over the chainsaw.
- Bystanders or coworkers should remain at least two tree lengths (at least 150 feet) away from anyone felling a tree and at least 30 feet from anyone operating a chain saw to remove limbs or cut a fallen tree.
- If injury occurs, apply direct pressure over site(s) of heavy bleeding; this act may save lives.
If power lines are lying on the ground or dangling near the ground, do not touch them. Notify your utility company as soon as possible that lines have been damaged, or that the power lines are down, but do not attempt to move or repair the power lines.
Avoid driving through standing water if downed power lines are in the water. If a power line falls across your vehicle while you are driving, continue to drive away from the line. If the engine stalls, do not turn off the ignition. Stay in your vehicle and wait for emergency personnel. Do not allow anyone other than emergency personnel to approach your vehicle.
During heavy rains and floods, the ground can become saturated. Residents who use an onsite sewage disposal system (a septic tank system) may be experiencing performance problems due to these rain-soaked conditions.
Follow these suggestions that may provide some relief:
- Limit water usage when possible by reducing toilet flushing, dishwashing, clothes washing and showering.
- Consider laundering at commercial establishments, as this will significantly reduce the demand on your own system.
- Inspect disposal areas for depressions where rainwater ponding may occur. Adding soil to these depressions will aid in surface drainage.
- Inspect roof draining and gutters to ensure that rainwater runoff is diverted away from the disposal area.
- Consider having your septic tank pumped out. This may provide temporary relief and may help with maintenance for long-term system performance. The Alabama Department of Public Health recommends having your septic tank pumped out every three to five years to eliminate sludge buildup. After weather conditions improve, the system should return to normal functioning. If you continue to experience problems with your system, contact your local health department environmentalist for assistance.
Signs that a septic system is not working properly include the following:
- Sinks drain slowly
- Toilets drain slowly
- Floor drains overflow
- Sewage becomes visible outside the home
Precautions related to septic systems include:
- Avoid contact with any septic system electrical devices until they are dry and clean.
- Do not pump out the septic tank more than halfway or the tank may float out of the ground.
- Reduce all nonessential water use (for example, dishwashing, clothes washing, showering).
- Flush toilets as little as possible or use a temporary toilet. If you suspect septic system damage, get the system professionally inspected and serviced.
Severe flooding can put drinking water wells at increased risk for contamination from floodwater that may contain sewage. Persons in areas where there may have been flash floods should test their private water wells before drinking water from them. Private wells that have been covered by flood water should be assumed to have been contaminated.
Do not drink water from your well or feed it to your animals until you have tested it and have received a satisfactory test result. Sample kits may be obtained from the local health departments and state health department laboratories, which are equipped to sample well water for bacteriological contamination.
Once a satisfactory sample is obtained, the well should be monitored by continued sampling to ensure the quality of the water supply. Until water is known to be free of contaminants, residents should only use clear water which has been brought to a full boil for one minute. Contact your health department (http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/publications/assets/countycontacts.pdf) for a list of septic system contractors who work in your area.
Stray animals can pose a danger during a storm. Most animals are disoriented and displaced, so do not corner them. Certain animals may carry rabies; therefore, care should be taken to avoid contact with strays. Although rabies is rare, it may be transmitted in Alabama by foxes, bats, raccoons or rarely other animals. If you are bitten by an animal, seek immediate medical attention as soon as possible. If an animal must be removed, contact your local animal control authorities.
Flooding creates opportunity for molds to grow. Take precautionary measures to avoid indoor air quality problems in repairing storm-damaged homes and buildings following floods. Molds are mainly a health hazard to that part of the population that is allergic to them. Proper cleanup of molds decreases the amount available to cause symptoms.
Most molds do not cause infections, but some molds are a health risk to people with immune problems such as HIV infection, cancer patients taking chemotherapy, and people who have received organ transplants. People with asthma, allergies, or other breathing conditions may be more sensitive to mold.
To protect against health risks associated with mold:
- Remove standing water from your home, office or business.
- Remove wet materials such as carpets, pads, insulation, wallboard, pillows and mattresses. If mold growth has already occurred, carefully remove the moldy material.
- Use personal protective equipment when cleaning or removing mold. These include gloves, goggles and a face mask.
- Do not use a respirator if you have heart disease or chronic lung disease such as asthma or emphysema. Due to an inability to wear protective equipment, persons with these conditions should avoid mold cleanup. While cleaning up, take breaks in a well-ventilated area. Individuals with known mold allergies or asthma should not clean or remove moldy materials.
- Do not mix bleach with anything except water. Mixing bleach with other liquids could produce hazardous gases from a chemical reaction. Read and follow label instructions carefully. Open windows and doors to provide plenty of fresh air.
Cleanup needs to be done correctly to remove the musty, earthy smell from buildings. The first step in cleanup is to remove sources of moisture since remaining moisture will create the humidity causing more mold to grow. Fix any leaks and remove all water. Using a “wet-dry” shop vacuum (or the vacuum function of a carpet steam cleaner) may be helpful. Use fans and open windows, dehumidifiers or air conditioning to lower the humidity.
Remove all sheetrock to at least 12 inches above the high-water mark. Prevent the growth of mold on hard surfaces such as glass, plastic and metal by cleaning with detergent and water. To remove mold growth from hard surfaces, use commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Use a stiff brush on rough surfaces such as concrete.
Alabama does not license mold remediation services or maintain a list of approved remediators, but you may check a list of professional cleaners who are certified by the Institute of Inspecting, Cleaning and Restoration Certification at IICRC.org to request a list of qualified professionals located in your area.
For more information, consult the following websites: