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Protecting Children After a Flood

After floodwaters have receded, people begin working to get back into their neighborhoods and homes. However, precautions must be taken to protect children from potential hazards due to the flood and associated cleanup.

The potential presence of disease-causing pathogens in once-flooded homes and yards is a concern.  Contaminated floodwater, sewage and sediment removed from basements may linger in the streets and low areas.   It is important to keep children away from these areas.

Children should be prevented from playing in or near areas where flood debris is being removed and homes are being renovated. Parents are encouraged to remember that these are construction sites where materials like metal, nails, broken glass, insulation, household hazardous waste and electronic debris can be found. Airborne dust resulting from cleanup and renovation also may be present. Young children must be kept away from these hazards. Older children who will be present must have appropriate breathing and eye protection, and wear protective boots, gloves, clothing and hard hats.

Floodwaters typically contain microbial contaminants such as fecal coliforms and other pollutants. Gastrointestinal illness or other health problems may occur if these contaminants get into the body. Drying, exposure to sunlight and incorporation into the soil will help reduce contamination over time. However, depending upon a variety of environmental factors, it can take up to three months for illness-causing bacteria to significantly be reduced in the sediment left behind by flooding. Adults should help children understand the hazard and prevent them from coming in contact with contaminated sediment.

Since the hazard is associated with contaminants entering the body, keep hands away from the face where contaminants may enter eyes or the mouth. Frequent hand washing, particularly before eating, is recommended.

Avoid tracking sediment into clean areas, and restrict pets from entering areas where they may collect sediment and then transfer it to humans. Hand washing is essential after handling pets that have been outdoors.

Warn children about other hazards such as downed power lines and broken tree branches. They should not play around any water, including puddles, drainage ways, streams and rivers. Children should avoid contact with stray dogs, cats, snakes or other wild animals, and they should not touch dead animals. Children also should have adequate insect repellent and be encouraged to wash their hands frequently.

Any outdoor playground equipment that was flooded must be cleaned and sanitized before use. Sand from flooded sandboxes must be removed and replaced with fresh, washed sand.

For more information on flooding and post-flood precautions and cleanup, visit the Centers for Disease Control Web page at  www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/ or the NDSU flood website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/flood/.  In addition, educational materials for children can be found at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/educationalmaterials.asp.

Gary Haberstroh
Environmental Engineer
North Dakota Department of Health
918 East Divide Avenue
Bismarck, ND 58501-1947
(701) 328.5206

Kenneth Hellevang, Ph.D., P.E.
Extension Engineer & Professor
Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering Department
North Dakota State University Extension Service
NDSU Dept 7620, P.O. Box 6050, Fargo, ND  58108-6050
(701) 231-7243

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