Hurricane Harvey Flooding Poses Health Risks to Public

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Photo: Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle

Flooding poses health risks from regional petrochemical production, agriculture and sewage overflow along the Texas gulf coast. As the rains stop and flood waters recede concerns for public health grow. Flood water and its residual cleanup is toxic because it may contain several harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, molds, protozoa, and viruses. Flooding poses health risks from other detrimental remains of biological and a-biological pollutants, as well.

Houston, TX – Category 4 Hurricane Harvey is the strongest storm to make U.S. landfall in 12 years. Houston experienced a year’s worth of rainfall in just 5 days. 4.9 million people in the metro area saw at least 3 feet of rain or more. This caused unprecedented flooding from bayous, rivers, and levee overflowing. Rivers across the region will continue to rise, some cresting more than 10 feet above previous record levels. Over 17,000 people were displaced by Monday, August 28. Houston police estimated that around 3,500 people had been rescued from the city and surrounding areas. Businesses and schools have been closed at a great cost to the economy. But the final totals are far from coming in as it could be weeks until the waters recede and the area properly assessed.flooding-poses-health-risks-rainfall

One thing is clear, flooding poses health risks to the public. Waters that breach their environmental or man-made systems become a mixture of everything they engulf. This can include toxic biological and a-biological contaminants. This is especially true of waste water treatment plants that can spill over, as well as the many petrochemical facilities in the region.

As the polluted waters recede and cleanup begins there are several environmental factors to consider.

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Photo: Yi Chin Lee, Houston Chronicle
Even when a building structure has been recovered from flooding related water damage, public health issues can still occur. Though everything may appear visually cleaned up, the interstitial space of the building’s structure might yet be teeming with chemical and microbial propagules. Discoloration of interior walls and other places are a primary indicator that microbial remediation is needed. If the discoloration is in multiple places, it is of even more concern as the interstitial spaces could be 100 times greater than what is visibly seen. There is little medical or scientific doubt that this is hazardous to the health of building occupants.

Possible constituents to consider in a post flooding environmental assessment may include:

• E. coli
• Total Coli-forms
• Total Fungal
• Total Bacteria
• Chemical
• Salmonella
• Listeria

Professional evaluation, testing, and laboratory analysis is often needed to better ascertain the extent of the potential damage, ongoing conditions, and health risks that may be lurking in an affected building.

Flooding poses health risks so environmental air, bulk, surface, and liquid samples should be collected from the affected areas for bacterial, mold and chemical analysis. The results are helpful in determining the microbial/chemical propagation as well as to facilitate remedial action or justify decision making for any remedial measures.

Two available options to get started include the evalu-aire, professional-level, do-it-yourself (DIY) testing kit to sample both the air and surfaces of the building or hiring a professional environmental consulting firm that will evaluate the ambient conditions of the structure, the HVAC system, interstitial wall cavities, the building’s envelope, etc… to determine the cause(s) of specific health concerns and provide a specific remedy for effective removal.

In the first option, an economical DIY method is available to collect the samples for screening the microorganisms from the flooded environment. These samples can be tested by using culture or non-culture based methods. If elevated levels are reported, then consult with an indoor environmental professional for more comprehensive evaluation, analysis and remedial recommendations.

President Trump has signed a federal disaster declaration for the state of Texas. William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said the move freed him to “unify efforts and send in federal resources”.

Pure Air Control Services can provide disaster recovery assistance through its federal General Services Administration (GSA) contract (#GS 10-F-0488R) to assist city, county, state and federal governments (including schools) by identifying baseline mold/IAQ conditions and providing specific, definitive remedial recommendations.

Alan Wozniak, President and CEO of Pure Air Control Services said “Normally, our federal contracts are limited to federal agencies. However, since President Trump has declared Texas a disaster area, Pure Air’s federal contract can now be used by city, county and state agencies since under this declaration, federal aid is available to such entities.”

Pure Air Control Services, Inc., can also be easily utilized for emergency IEQ testing and response services with TIPS Interlocal Purchasing System sourcing for governmental agencies. Building Health Check, LLC, products, such as the evalu-aire test kit, can also be procured using the TIPS vehicle.

As the recovery efforts from Hurricane Harvey begin it is critical to understand that flooding poses health risks to people in affected buildings and that professional environmental analysis is key to restoring safe conditions for occupancy.

You can contact the Building Scientists at Pure Air Control Services for a professional evaluation of your building or home at 1-800-422-7873 ext 802. For the DIY evalu-aire test kit go to IndoorAirTest.com or contact 1-800-422-7873 ext 404 for more options and information.

About Pure Air Control Services
Pure Air Control Services, Inc. was established in 1984 as a small, mechanical, contracting firm and has since set the industry standard for indoor environmental quality diagnosis, environmental laboratory and remediation. Pure Air Control Services has serviced more than 600 million square feet of indoor environments in over 10,000 facilities.

Pure Air’s nationally performed services include: Building Sciences Evaluation; Building Health Check; a CDC ELITE Environmental Microbiology Laboratory; Environmental Project Management; HVAC New Life Restoration and PURE-Steam Coil Cleaning/Mold Remediation Services, among other indoor environmental services.

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