The 2 Things You Must Know to Protect Your Health During a Flood

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How to protect yourself during a floodThere have been an increasing number of floods in both Canada and the United States due to adverse storm events. When Mother Nature decides to dump an unusually high amount of water on communities, the results can be devastating.

Water damage is particularly problematic, because unlike fire or wind damage, it can linger for weeks. Water can pool everywhere it shouldn’t be. It can collect in streets and basements. It can cause foundations to rot and bridges to topple. It can also flood sewage systems and pollute drinking water supplies.

Recently, a massive flood occurred in Alberta, Canada. Entire houses were swept away, cars were overturned, and schools and community buildings were ruined. For those hardest hit, there will be no salvaging of their homes. While this was an extreme, devastating situation, even minor floods can wreak havoc—such as a recent flood in Toronto this week which left cars floating in the streets and subways out of commission for hours.

You will have to make some carefully weighed decisions about your safety during a flood. One of the key things to worry about, once you’ve ensured you and your loved ones are okay, is mold that can grow in your home. Mold poses a number of health risks after a flood. Mold is a fungus that can trigger respiratory problems. Symptoms can include nasal and sinus congestion, coughs, breathing problems, sore throat, skin and eye irritation, and upper respiratory infections.

Learning to spot mold is crucial to your good health after flood damage. Look for mold growth on surfaces and in cracks and corners of rooms. Mold also likes to grow underneath things and behind building materials. Mold can be white, grey, brown, black, yellow, or green. It can also have an odor.

To clean-up and remove mold after a flood, here are a number of steps you can take:

  • Get the area where mold is growing dried out. That includes floors, walls and any items that got wet. If you get rid of all the moisture, mold can’t grow.
  • If you identify moldy items, you’ll have to dispose of them.
  • Mold that’s growing on walls and floors needs to be cleaned. Try cleaning with hot water, soap and a stiff brush. If that doesn’t work, you may need professional help.

One other very important issue to consider in the aftermath of a flood is the safety of drinking water. An advisory may be posted to boil water used for drinking, preparing food, beverages, ice cubes, washing fruits and vegetables, or brushing teeth—as has been the case in some communities in Alberta.

This is because high amounts of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, or parasites can enter the water system. They may be lurking anywhere along the water supply chain, affecting water quality by the time it reaches your tap. Even after a water advisory has been lifted, your pipes may need to be flushed and water heaters may need to be inspected.

Bottled water can be safe to drink even when there is a water advisory, as bottled water may be sourced from a different area, separate from the flood zone. Bottled water is also regulated by the government.

If you have a well, you are responsible for checking the safety of your drinking water. If surface water has entered your well during a flood, you’re going to need to test it before you can drink from it.

While you want to make sure that you and your family are safe after an emergency like a flood, the next step should be checking your home and making sure that these two factors aren’t going to cause lasting damage to your health.



“Health threats linger from Alberta flooding: Canmore and High River among communities where boil-water advisories issued,” CBC News web site, June 26, 2013;, last accessed July 4, 2013.

“Dealing with Mold Problems after a Flood,” Minnesota Department of Health web site;, last accessed July 4, 2013.