Beware of environmental health risks in flood clean up

NSW Health has today issued advice for people in flood-affected areas as they enter the clean-up phase.

Acting Director of Environmental Health, Dr Adi Vyas said there were a variety of environmental health risks following flooding, particularly as floodwater may be contaminated with sewage and chemicals.

“Many parts of NSW have been badly affected by flooding and some people are beginning to return home. Though this will be a distressing and difficult experience, we want to remind people of the need to be safe when cleaning up their home to protect their health,” Dr Vyas said.

Dr Vyas said it was critical that people cleaning up after flood damage always wear protective gear, including gloves and face masks, as well as covered shoes and full-length clothing. People must also wash their hands thoroughly after cleaning.

“Start drying out your property when safe – remove carpets, mattresses and other wet furniture; check behind fridges and cupboards and wall and floor cavities as mould or mildew can develop,” Dr Vyas said.

Dr Vyas said people returning home should also be mindful about their drinking water.

“Adhere to boil water alerts issued by your local water authority when piped water is not available. Use boiled water for drinking, washing raw food, cooking, brushing teeth, and pets’ drinking water,” Dr Vyas said.

Dr Vyas said not to use rainwater tank water as stored water may contain bacteria, and to be careful when cleaning tanks.

“Cleaning rainwater tanks carries safety risks, so contact your tank supplier and consider the structural integrity of the tank. If your rainwater tank has been inundated by flood water, empty the tank water, disinfect drinking water inside the tank with chlorine and clean and flush the rest of the system, including pipes and taps,” Dr Vyas said.

Septic tanks and onsite wastewater systems should be inspected as they could have broken or moved. People are advised to seek local council and private water suppliers’ advice if they believe there are any issues. PAGE 2 OF 2

Dr Vyas also reiterated advice to people to never swim in floodwater.

“Floodwater can be extremely polluted and contaminated with sewage and chemicals. Contact can lead to skin and stomach infections and other rare, but serious conditions, such as leptospirosis,” he said.

If you have any questions, seek advice from your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055.

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