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Press Release # 034-12
Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Jean Weinberg/Chanel Caraway: 

Health Department Issues Safety Recommendations for Cleaning Up Homes After Hurricane Sandy

November 13, 2012 – As the recovery from Hurricane Sandy continues, the Health Department urges New Yorkers to protect themselves from health and injury risks during cleanup. While Sandy has not caused problems with outdoor air quality, indoor dust, mold, fumes from temporary heating sources and the use of strong cleaning products can be irritating to the eyes, throat, and lungs. Dust can also be produced by repair and debris removal. In addition, debris removal and repair work can lead to injuries of various types. To help you and your family stay safe, the Health Department recommends the following:

Keep Yourself Protected
Safety Precautions for Cleaning and Disinfecting
  • Major Flood Damage and Mold: How to Make Repairs Safety and Effectively (PDF)
  • Open windows and doors to ventilate as much as possible while cleaning to prevent irritation from dust and strong cleaning chemicals.
  • Keep children and pets away from areas you are cleaning.
  • Most surfaces and items can be cleaned effectively with soap or detergent and water.
  • To disinfect materials and surfaces that came in contact with sewage, add one cup household bleach to two gallons water. Never mix bleach with ammonia or other cleaners.
  • If your belongings came in contact with fuel oil or other household chemicals, wash them thoroughly with detergent and water. Do not put contaminated clothing in a dryer until all oil is removed.
  • Discard any food that has come into contact with flood water or was not properly refrigerated. In in doubt, throw it out.
  • Throw out damaged or contaminated belongings in plastic garbage bags with regular trash.
Addressing Mold
  • Clean with soap and water. Do not use full strength bleach or mix bleach with other cleaning products. Use diluted bleach sparingly and only on areas that require disinfection.
  • Dry out affected areas of the home as soon as possible. Open windows, use fans if available, and remove and discard porous building materials that got wet. Wallboard should be removed at least 6 inches above the watermark along with any insulation that soaked up water. Leave walls open until they dry out to prevent sealing in moisture.
  • Exteriors of homes seriously affected by flooding need to be assessed for water damage as well; siding should be removed to check for damage, and to assist with full drying.
  • Walls, siding, tiling and other materials should not be reinstalled until all building materials are fully dry, cleaned and, if necessary, disinfected.
  • For more information on mold.
Handling Debris
  • Wear heavy duty work gloves, boots, long sleeve shirts and jeans or work pants.
  • Clear pathways for carrying out debris.
  • Certain insulation, such as that around old pipes and boilers, may contain asbestos. If you are unsure if there is asbestos in damaged insulation, contact a licensed asbestos contractor. Do not remove it yourself.
  • Residents working on cleanup projects should check to make sure they have been immunized for tetanus within the last 10 years, and obtain a tetanus booster if they have not. If a person is unsure about the date of their last tetanus shot, they should receive the booster as well. The Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) vaccine is preferred over Td, when available.
Avoiding Injury During Debris Removal
  • Remove debris in manageable amounts, use more than one person with heavy loads.
If you get a cut or puncture wound from handling debris:
  • Clean thoroughly under running water.
  • Apply antibiotic ointment.
  • Cover with sterile gauze and tape.
  • Keep the wound dry and clean.
  • Change the bandage twice a day until healed.
  • Seek medical attention if any of the following apply: the wound is large enough that it may require closure with sutures or other means, you think there may be pieces of debris in the wound, or you develop any signs of infection such as pain, redness, swelling and/or pus.
  • If you get an injury, you will need a tetanus booster if you have not received one in the past five years.
Electrical Work
  • If you had flooding or structural damage, have a licensed electrician or utility company inspect your electrical system before using electricity.
  • Do NOT enter rooms with standing water unless power is turned off at the main switch.
  • Do NOT run any electrical equipment or appliances near standing water or on wet materials.
Heating Oil Tanks
  • If you have a home heating oil tank and it has leaked or has been damaged by the storm, or you suspect that fuel has been released in or near your home, call the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at (800) 457‐7362 (9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., seven days a week).
  • Keep flames away from the area.
  • If you smell gas, open windows and call your utility company.
Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
  • Never use portable generators or gas‐powered tools indoors, in garages or near open windows. Never use your stove or a portable gas heater to heat your home. Never use barbecue grills to cook indoors.
Hazardous Materials
  • If your home was built before 1978, it may contain lead-based paint. Never dry sand or dry scrape lead paint. Use wet methods to remove lead paint. Note: Unless otherwise notified, it is safe to drink New York City tap water in areas with flooding.

In addition to the information on the Health Department website, the National Center for Healthy Housing offers guidance on cleaning up after a flood at



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