Anyone who has been inside a flooded home knows there is a sickening stench. As water rose throughout Texas, sewers backed up, pouring filth out of toilets and sinks, contaminating already flooded houses with raw sewage. Now that waters have subsided in most areas, Texans are faced with a new problem: infectious bacteria, toxic mold, dangerous chemicals, and hazardous metals polluting their homes. The odor permeates flooring, drywall, furniture, and cabinetry. In fact, even items untouched by the water may forever be tainted by the smell.
Houston Flood Water Tests Positive For E. Coli, Arsenic, Lead & Mercury
Sheila Kaplan of The New York Times lead a scientific expedition south to Houston. They entered flooded homes and sampled the rancid water they found there.
Sheila says, “Inside, there was an unbelievable stench. I took one step and turned around. (Even with a mask, breathing made my throat burn.) But the researchers were stoic and spent an hour taking samples, providing us with the first measure of toxicity inside a flooded house. The results were terrible: The level of E. coli (an indication of fecal contamination from the sewage) was 135 times what is generally considered safe, and there were raised levels of lead and other hazardous metals. Meanwhile, Jack and his team found a truly dangerous threat: liquid mercury beads, spread out over the sand.”
In addition to illness inducing bacteria, a cocktail of chemicals pollutes the waters. Gasoline and fluids from flooded cars, industrial products from flooded businesses and factories, and who-knows-what-else from the 40 waste treatment plants that still remain nonoperational. In a downtown Houston home, the New York Times discovered, dangerous levels of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals in floodwater sediment in the kitchen.
Flesh Eating Bacteria: A Near Death Experience in Missouri City
39 year old J.R. Atkins of Missouri City is a former firefighter and paramedic. On August 29, he rowed through flooded neighborhoods searching for survivors, and anyone who might need helps. Little did he know, he’d soon be the one fighting for his life.
J.R. was equipped with rain boots, waterproof pants, and a rain jacket. He didn’t worry about wearing gloves since he didn’t have open wounds on his hands. Unfortunately, at some point, an insect bit J.R. on the hand. He was too busy to even notice at the time, but that tiny puncture lead to a potentially lethal infection. J.R. contracted Strep A, necrotizing fasciitis, AKA flesh eating bacteria.
After five days in the Intensive Care Unit, and another five recovering in a hospital room, J.R. is back at work in his oil industry job. He endured three surgeries, dangerous drops in blood pressure, septic shock and one instance where he says, “they put shock pads on me in case I coded in the elevator.”
J.R. hopes his story serves as a warning to Texans and Floridians: Wear gloves, rain boots, waterproof clothing, and a face mask. If possible, avoid all contact with flood waters.
Toxic Mold & Fungi Make Wearing An N95 Mask Vital
Any time you’re cleaning up a flooded home, wear at N95 mask. This will protect you from 95% of particles including fungi, mold, and other airborne hazards.
Dr. Shelena C. Lalji, founder of the Dr. Shel Wellness & Aesthetic Center in Sugarland, warns that mold is an unavoidable hazard after a disaster such as Harvey.
“It is so important that sheetrock, carpet, cabinets, doors and baseboards that have been submerged in any amount of water, be it 5 inches or 5 feet, be removed completely and rebuilt rather than testing for mold levels,” Dr. Shel advises. “Why? Because mold is nearly inevitable in this type of scenario and to be honest, it is not worth your health to expose yourself to it.”
Dr. Shel lists a number of symptom resultant from mold exposure, including allergies, asthma, bronchitis, headaches, inflammation, respiratory issues, thyroid disorders, and a weakened immune system.
But mold isn’t the only hazard. Fungi can cause infections and illness years after exposure takes place.
Back in 2005, Jody Oggs LaFleur helped her mom clean up her flooded home following Hurricane Rita. She had no idea that inhaling fungi was a concern. It was two years later as she was near death that she received a diagnosis from an infectious disease specialist who put her on a lung transplant list. After not responding to six weeks of intravenous anti-fungal medications, Jody endured six months of chemotherapy to kill the fungus infecting her body. She now warns Hurricane Harvey victims: wear a mask at all times.
Featured Photo: This alligator was found lounging under a dining room table in a flooded Houston home. Read the story here.
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