Waters after hurricane/flood/tornadoes can be contaminated with sewage, industrial waste, microorganisms, chemicals, and other substances that can cause illness or death. In these environments, it becomes necessary for professional rescue workers, along with volunteers, to begin the tasks of decontaminating the properties that are still standing. An important step in preventing disease is to disinfect clothing, tools/equipment, and work area surfaces.
Good old household bleach solutions can be used for decontamination purposes when working around these hazards. It is important to workers and volunteers that good hand hygiene is established. Hands should be washed with clean soap and water if at all possible. If only contaminated water is available, use ¼ cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water. When cleaning hand tools, immerse them in the solution. Severe surface decontamination needs to be disinfected using a solution of 1½ cups of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Allow this to stand 3 minutes.
It is important to mix bleach solutions fresh daily, just before use. The solution needs to stand for 30 minutes before using. Wipe electric or battery-operated tools with bleach solution. It is also imperative that you wear gloves, and eye protection when cleaning clothes, tools, and surfaces. When mold is present, use respirators (N-95 recommended). Never mix ammonia products with bleach.
An Added Problem
Emergency responders don’t often consider technical animal decontamination, yet the possibility absolutely exists. Common HAZMAT situations involving animals include septic tank falls, inadvertent chemical overspray, swamps, flooding, and gasoline from automobile and trailer wrecks. Animal handling and decontamination is an integral part of any HAZMAT response where animals are potentially exposed to hazardous chemical releases. Contaminated animals pose a health and safety threat to any human they contact after removal from a hazardous environment if they are not properly decontaminated. This requires proper training and equipment for first responders and well thought out plans for animal management before, during and after the decontamination process. Sights of deserted animals are heartbreaking, and there are rescue agencies that take them in and rehabilitate them, finding new owners if the original owners are not found.
Because there is such a threat of disease, all precautionary measures should be taken by workers, volunteers and homeowners. Wearing proper PPE personal protective equipment for different situations is of the utmost importance.