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Protect Children After a Flood

Once-flooded homes and flood recovery efforts can be hazardous to children.

As people begin getting back into their neighborhoods and homes after a flood, they need to protect their children from potential hazards from the flood and associated cleanup.

The potential presence of disease-causing pathogens in once-flooded homes and yards is a concern, according to Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer, and Gary Haberstroh, environmental engineer with the North Dakota Department of Health. Contaminated floodwaters, sewage and sediment removed from basements may linger in the streets and low areas, so keeping children away from these areas is important.

Parents also should prevent their children from playing in or near areas where people are removing flood debris and renovating homes. These are construction sites that can have materials such as metal, nails, broken glass, insulation, household hazardous waste and electronic debris. Airborne dust resulting from cleanup and renovation also may be present.

“Young children must be kept away from these hazards,” Hellevang says. “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, and people can develop gastrointestinal illness or other health problems if these contaminants get into the body.

“Drying, exposure to sunlight and incorporation into the soil will help lessen contamination over time,” Haberstroh says. “However, depending upon a variety of environmental factors, it can take up to three months for illness-causing bacteria to be significantly 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.”

Because the health hazard is associated with contaminants entering the body, children and adults need to keep their hands away from their face to prevent contaminants from getting into their eyes or mouth. Haberstroh and Hellevang recommend people wash their hands frequently, particularly before eating.

People also should avoid tracking sediment from once-flooded sites into clean areas, and pets should be restricted 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.

Here is other advice from Hellevang and Haberstroh on protecting children from flood-related hazards:

  • Warn children about hazards such as downed power lines and broken tree branches.
  • Keep children from playing around any water, including puddles, drainage ways, streams and rivers.
  • Tell children to avoid contact with stray dogs, cats, snakes or other wild animals, and not to touch dead animals.
  • Make sure children have adequate insect repellent and wash their hands frequently.
  • Clean and sanitize any outdoor playground equipment that was flooded before letting children use it. Remove the sand from flooded sandboxes and replace it with fresh, washed sand.

For more information on flooding and post-flood precautions and cleanup, visit the Centers for Disease Control Web page at or the NDSU flood website at Educational materials for children are available at

NDSU Agriculture Communication -Aug. 8, 2011

Source:Ken Hellevang, (701) 231-7243,
Source:Gary Haberstroh, (701) 328-5206,
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391,
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