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Health Concerns Following a Natural Disaster

health concerns following natural disasters

By Emily Walsh, Community Outreach Director, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

During a natural disaster, immediate safety is the greatest concern: evacuation, the amount of food and water available, and even saving important documents and precious belongings like photos and memorabilia.

Many people who experience natural disasters are left to face not only a damaged home and belongings, but also the possibility of unforeseen unhealthy living conditions. From stagnant water containing bacteria, to mold growth and the release of environmental toxins, coming in contact with or breathing in these things may have harmful, long-term consequences to health.

Mold Growth

Mold thrives in damp, humid environments, which is exactly the situation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida. The effects of mold range from eye and throat irritation to more serious respiratory issues, especially from black mold.

Mold can also enhance the effects of conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Mold growth can begin within 48 hours without proper cleaning, and it might spread even faster with the prime conditions caused by hurricanes, so quick action is important to catch and clean mold before it spreads too far.

Environmental toxins

Oftentimes, people talk about environmental toxins like lead and asbestos in the home as safe until damaged or disturbed. Well, the unfortunate truth is that natural disasters like hurricanes or fires will cause that damage, creating one more thing for homeowners to worry about.

Asbestos is a mineral that once had many uses in the home, including insulation, siding, shingling, tiling, furnaces, and more. The fire-resistant elements of asbestos made it prime construction material until it was discovered that asbestos can cause many respiratory problems including mesothelioma.

The largest concern with lead is slow mental and physical development in children if they are exposed, especially when chippable lead paint is in reach of children such as on windowsills or banisters. Lead and asbestos are likely to be present in any home built before the 1970s, unless previously abated. The bottom line is, ingesting or inhaling these microscopic toxins in the air can be dangerous.

Hurricanes and fires could create the problem themselves, or damage may happen during the clean-up process. Tearing up flooring or knocking down damaged walls that contain asbestos or lead might release lead dust and asbestos fibers in the air that, if inhaled, could cause health issues for years to come.

Stagnant floodwater

Sometimes floodwater contains toxins that contaminate water from landfills, chemical plants, sewage and superfund sites. Stagnant water outside or perhaps in the basement could contain a host of bacteria that may cause gastrointestinal problems or even infection if it comes in contact with a cut or other open wound.

Staying safe

Avoiding potential health hazards during restoration after a natural disaster can be difficult and a nuisance. There’s protective gear that that needs to be bought, like face masks, boots, and rubber gloves, as well as the unpredictability of what lies behind damp walls and beneath damaged carpets. Bacterial infection and lead poisoning are not to be taken lightly. Your safety is the most important thing, so let the experts clean and restore your home properly, quickly, and safely.

For mold remediation service and water damage repair, contact your local PuroClean office. For more information on asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, visit the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance website.

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