Health Canada is providing clean-up tips and warnings about air quality for home and cottage owners affected by the widespread flooding across Muskoka this spring.
It’s important to restore your home to good order as soon as possible to protect your health and prevent further damage, according to Health Canada, which recommends that homes and furnishings are dried within 48 hours if possible. The department also recommends removing anything that has been too wet for too long and is not dryable, including items like cushions, carpet, drywall, mattresses, stuffed toys and more. Some household items, such as things made of plastic or tile, can be cleaned if they are only affected by surface mould. Mould is the most common indoor air contaminant in Canada and people living in homes with mould and damp conditions are more likely to have eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing and phlegm build-up, wheezing and shortness of breath and worsening of asthma symptoms. Some residents may confuse the symptoms for spring allergies, so officials say residents should be careful to watch for signs of mould even after flooding clean-up.
“In an emergency situation, the indoor air quality in your home may appear to be the least of your problems,” says a statement from Health Canada. “However, failure to remove standing water or water damaged materials can present serious long-term health risks. Standing water and wet materials will allow viruses, bacteria, and mould to grow. These organisms can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions, and continue to damage materials long after the flood.”
Health Canada recommends professional services to clean up extensive issues such as those caused by the recent flooding, but the department also offers tips to homeowners who wish to clean up themselves.
For those attempting self clean-up, Health Canada recommends starting by removing water with pumps or pails and then using a wet/dry shop vacuum. Residents should then remove all soaked and dirty materials, debris and mud and clean any dirt on walls and furnishings. Health Canada does not recommend using bleach but instead recommends other typical household cleaners such as spray soaps. Finally, it’s important to clean the floors as quickly as possible.
When it comes to disposing of contaminated household items, flooring that has been soaked by flood water should be removed and discarded. Finished walls should be removed if the water level was several feet high, if it took many days or longer before the water was drained or if the area was very humid for an extended period. All insulation materials, drywall, carpets, particleboard furniture, mattresses, box springs, stuffed toys, pillows, cushions and furniture coverings that have been exposed to flood water and cannot be dried should be discarded.
Homeowners are then instructed to vacuum surfaces that are dry or have not been directly affected by the flood water with a HEPA vacuum cleaner. After cleaning the affected surfaces with a soap solution, ventilate or dehumidify the house until it is dry. Rapid drying is important to prevent mould growth, according to Health Canada. If outside weather includes low humidity and moderate temperatures, residents should open doors and windows and speed up the drying process with fans; otherwise, the department recommends using a dehumidifier.
Health Canada also wants to remind residents to have a working carbon monoxide detector, especially when drying out their home. Carbon monoxide can build up quickly if pumps or heaters powered by gasoline, kerosene, or propane are used in a poorly ventilated room. Residents should also be sure not to use combustion equipment designed for outdoor use indoors.