Health officials fight hazards after storm

Published 12:47 am Thursday, September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene’s trek through Beaufort County during the weekend left several potential health hazards for residents to deal with, according to the Beaufort County Health Department.

Residents returning to homes that were flooded should be aware that floodwaters might be harmful, according to health officials.

“Assume that anything touched by floodwater is contaminated and will have to be disinfected or thrown out. Remember to wash your hands frequently during clean up, and always wear rubber gloves,” reads a third BCHD news release.

BCHD offers the following protection suggestions:

  • Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
  • Remove and discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected (such as mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and paper products).
  • Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.
  • Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks and other appliances). When disinfecting heavily soiled surfaces, it is important to change the disinfecting solution (3/4 cup household liquid bleach to 1 gallon of water) frequently to ensure effectiveness. It should be changed when the solution becomes cloudy. After completing the cleanup, wash hands with soap and warm water.
  • Floodwaters and standing water pose various risks, including infectious diseases. Eating or drinking anything contaminated by floodwaters can cause diarrheal disease.

As the result of flooding, many private drinking-water wells may be contaminated, leaving the water in them unsuitable for human consumption. BCHD advises well owners to treat their wells before using the water.

A well owner may hire a certified well contractor to treat a well. Well owners may opt to treat their wells themselves. They may obtain instructions on how to treat those wells by contacting the BCHD’s environmental-health section at 220 N. Market St., Washington.

“If you choose to treat your own well, it is important to use unscented bleach, and follow the instructions carefully,” reads a BCHD news release.

After a well is treated, the well owner, may submit an application to the environmental-health section to have a water sample taken to determine if the water is safe to use. Currently, the water samples will be taken at no cost to well owners affected by flooding caused by Hurricane Irene.

Another health hazard to expect is the increase in the mosquito population during the coming days. BCHD’s environmental-health section is preparing to begin spraying operations to combat mosquitoes.

The rainfall and flooding associated with Hurricane Irene created more breeding areas for mosquitoes, said Eugene McRoy with the environmental-health section.

“It’s a combination of the floodwaters from the river getting pushed in and the floodwaters from the rain we got,” McRoy said.

As the county prepares to spray for mosquitoes, McRoy said, county residents could help prevent the mosquito population from growing as they clean up their homes, yards and other properties. That can be done by simply identifying sources of standing water and emptying water from those sources, he said.

County vehicles will be used during the spraying process, which will occur between dusk and dawn as weather conditions allow. Spraying will take place throughout the county until the mosquito population is under control, according to another BCHD news release.

When spraying is taking place in a certain area, residents of that area should temporarily close windows in their homes and avoid directly breathing in the spray when possible.

Anyone with questions about wells, mosquito spraying and/or dealing with floodwaters should call the Beaufort County Health Department’s environmental-health section at 252-946-6048.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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