When a hurricane hits, the damage left in its wake can be devastating. Not only do you have to worry about repairing your home, but you also have to worry about the health and safety of your family. The Environmental Protection Agency has put together a list of tools and resources to help cleanup. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the most important tools on that list, along with some of the CDC guidelines to keep you safe:
"Cleanup activities related to returning to homes and businesses after a disaster can pose significant health and environmental challenges," said EPA Region 4 Administrator Daniel Blackman. “EPA stands ready to assist our partners on every level to respond to any challenges that may result from Ian and to ensure that public health and the environment are protected.”
Debris can result from various things, including building rubble, trees and plants, personal belongings, and hazardous household waste. The method by which a community deals with disaster debris is determined by the quantity generated and the waste management options available. Residents should use care to ensure that all trash is collected and disposed of in accordance with local regulations.
The EPA offers a variety of resources and advice for dealing with the trash during storm cleanup:
Use Portable Generators Safely
To use portable generators safely, be sure to read manufacturer's instructions, and follow these general guidelines:
- Only use generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas
- Never use a generator inside a home, garage, or any other enclosed space
- Keep generators at least 20 feet away from homes and buildings
- Never store the fuel for a generator inside a home, garage, or any other enclosed space
Portable generators release toxic gas that must be properly ventilated in order to be safely used around people.
Dispose of Household Hazardous Waste Properly
During cleanup, it is important to identify and dispose of household hazardous waste properly. Household hazardous waste includes things like cleaners, paints, oils, batteries, and pesticides. These items can be poisonous if used or disposed of improperly.
The EPA recommends the following tips for disposing of household hazardous waste:
- Read the labels on all products and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe use and storage
- Never mix different household hazardous wastes together
- Call your local government to find out where and how to dispose of household hazardous wastes
- Never dispose of household hazardous wastes in the trash
Use EPA-Registered Disinfectants to Clean Up Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew can cause various health problems, so it is important to clean them up as soon as possible. The EPA recommends using EPA-registered disinfectants to kill mold and mildew.
Some of the EPA-registered disinfectants that can be used to clean up mold and mildew include:
- Clorox Multi-Surface Cleaner + Bleach
- Lysol Clean & Fresh Multi-Surface Cleaner
- Mr. Clean Multi-Surfaces Antibacterial Liquid Cleaner
Avoid Contact with Building Debris
Debris from destroyed homes and structures might include dangerous contaminants, especially in older structures. Airborne asbestos can be released if asbestos-containing materials inside the house are disturbed. Lead-based paint can also be a problem in older homes.
The EPA recommends that residents avoid contact with debris from destroyed homes and buildings and that they wear appropriate personal protective equipment if they must come into contact with it.
Some of the personal protective equipment that should be worn when handling debris includes:
- Eye protection
- Respiratory protection
If you must handle debris, the EPA recommends that you:
- Wet debris down with water to reduce dust
- Avoid dry sweeping or using a vacuum cleaner to clean up debris
- Use a shovel or other tool to scoop up debris, rather than your hands
- Follow state and local guidelines for disposing of debris
State and local governments have the primary responsibility for dealing with disaster debris. As a result, they usually have specific guidelines for how debris should be disposed of.
Residents should check with their state and local government to find out what the guidelines are for disposing of the debris in their area. In some cases, it may be possible to dispose of debris in the regular trash, while in other cases, special arrangements will need to be made.
Some states and localities have established special programs for disposing of disaster debris. For example, the state of Florida has a Disaster Debris Removal Program that helps residents dispose of debris from hurricanes and other disasters.
Maintain personal safety during cleanup
Cleaning up after a hurricane can be a dirty and dangerous job. It is important to take steps to protect your health and safety while you are doing it.
The CDC recommends that people take part in cleanup activities:
- Wash their hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Wear protective clothing, including gloves, goggles, and masks
- Avoid contact with floodwater, sewage, or hazardous materials
- Stay out of areas that have been damaged by the hurricane
- Get vaccinated against tetanus if they have not been vaccinated in the past 10 years
- Be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and take steps to prevent them
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to avoid dehydration
These tips, along with general common health practices will help ensure your safety and the safety of other workers while managing hurricane debris cleanup.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
After a hurricane, it is normal to feel stressed, anxious, or depressed. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health.
If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, the CDC recommends that you:
- Talk to someone who can listen and offer support
- Join a support group
- Get professional help if needed
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news reports about the hurricane
- Limit your exposure to social media
The CDC also recommends that people who have been affected by a hurricane take steps to reduce their stress levels. Some of the things that can help reduce stress include:
- Spending time with friends and family
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating healthy foods
- Avoiding alcohol and drugs
- Praying or meditating
- Doing relaxation exercises
- Be aware of local resources
By staying on top of your mental health you will be better prepared to tackle the amount of work needed to recover or rebuild after such a devastating event. If you are helping others during this time, this is especially important. As they say in the airline industry: "Put your mask on first." In this way you will be less likely to burn out with all of the stresses of recovery.
Recyclers and Landfills Equipped to Handle Disaster Debris
The EPA has created an interactive map that pinpoints 12 types of recyclers and landfills equipped to handle disaster debris. With over 20,000 facilities available, this tool will help manage different materials found after a crisis. Get more information about the tool here:
For more information on how your community may prepare for future disaster cleanups, see:
Wastebits also provides a waste handler locator to discover locations near you that may be able to help:
EPA has a wealth of information on floods, mold, hazardous waste, and other hurricane repercussions available in English and Spanish on its website. The EPA's main hub for disaster and hurricane information is accessible at EPA Hurricanes and EPA Huracanes.