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    Posted September 8, 2011 by
    South Sioux City, Nebraska
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Severe weather

    More from Usedcam

    Flood zones considered unsafe


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Usedcam is the editor of the Dakota County Star newspaper and has been covering the flooding for months. He says he's developed a lung condition in reaction to the mold that has grown in flooded areas. That inspired him to look into other health risks from the flood waters.
    - davidw, CNN iReport producer

    Toxins, molds already starting to raise health concerns along Missouri River flood zone


    SOUTH SIOUX CITY, NEB. - After three months of flooding on the Missouri River, you might finally be relieved to see the flood waters recede.

    Now is not the time to put your guard down.

    Health experts are highly concerned about the potential of cases related to human exposure to flood-caused toxins and mold.

    People are at risk from these agents by simply entering the flood zone, let alone cleaning up a flooded structure. Those with weakened immune systems, asthma or other physical ailments can be placing themselves into a high risk situation when entering the zones.

    “There are a lot of dangers out there,” said Joan McVoy R.N., the public education nurse at the Nebraska Regional Poison Center. “It is nasty water. It can cause infectious problems. There are chemicals that are in the water. People can even get injured just being around the water.”

    McVoy said infectious diseases are easy to contract in a flood zone.

    “Eating or drinking anything that is contaminated by the flood water can cause diseases. It is important that people make sure they wash their hands a lot. They want to make sure their kids are washing their hands too, especially before meals,” she said.

    One thing that is often overlooked in this danger zone is a simple rash or a small cut on a person’s finger or hands.

    “It may become exposed to the flood waters and they get infected, even a little paper cut, which you wouldn’t even think about. You want to make sure you are always wearing rubber gloves, rubber boots, and goggles,” McVoy said.

    The Poison Center nurse cautioned people to seek professional medical assistance if they have even a tiny cut that becomes infected if it was exposed to flood waters.

    “If you develop cuts or swelling, drainage or it’s red and hot – those are things you want to make sure you get help for right away,” she said.

    What is in the water is a major concern, according to McVoy.

    “Some of the things in the water include fuels, fertilizer, solvents, cleaning agents and all sorts of things that probably got contaminated and into the water. Each one of those causes different problems. We’re not even talking about all the mold,” she said.

    McVoy said some people with compromised immune systems or asthma are highly susceptible to health effects if exposed to mold, which is very common in the flood zones.

    “By breathing in that mold it can make them start getting some symptoms. It can cause an allergic reaction for some and others it can be a little more serious, especially those who have asthma,” she said.

    McVoy said anyone going near the flood zone, even with proper protection, needs to make sure they have their tetanus shots up to date.

    “They should check with their doctors. Every eight to 10 years is when you should get your (tetanus) booster,” she said.

    Other concerns include contact with wild and domestic animals, including dogs, cats, squirrels, reptiles, deer, raccoons and insects that have been in the flood zones.

    “You have to be alert and avoid them too.” McVoy said.

    If flooded out residents are re-entering their homes when water recedes several important steps need to be followed.

    “So now we have people going back into their homes. When they go into their house they want to make sure when they open their house the first time to open the windows and door that they can and then leave. If it is contaminated with sewage and flood water – there is most certainly mold in the house. Don’t just go in the house and stay in the house. Open up everything and leave for at least 30 minutes,” she said adding if they use fans to air out the house, don’t allow the fans to blow into the house but rather use them to blow air out of the structure.

    “You want to get the moisture out of the house. Don’t turn anything electrical back on until it has been checked out by a professional electrician,” she said.

    McVoy said items in a flood-ravaged house that always need thrown away include mattresses, upholstered furniture, drywall, insulation, carpet and carpet pads.

    “You really can’t clean it,” she said.

    As larger and larger numbers of people start cleaning up after the Missouri River flood of 2011, McVoy said she grows concerned that more people will become ill because of the toxins.

    “If you look at the flooding, I think people really have to be very careful. Just breathing in the mold fumes – all the little spores that mold puts out. It is important. People just don’t think about it. They just think they will go in and clean and there’s nothing they need to worry about,” McVoy said.

    She cautioned those trying to clean up flood damage have rubber boots, rubber gloves, a HEPA-rated breathing mask and goggles on. She also cautioned people using bleach not to mix it with other chemicals that might be present.

    “Ammonia or acids will form chlorine or chloramine gas and that can be very serious to people,” McVoy said.

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