Flood Safety and Cleanup Tips

FloodingSpring is coming early to Montana prompting flood advisories in a number of counties. Flooding poses special hazards to people who use private wells for their drinking water both during and after flood events.

If there is time before flooding, move any chemicals or hazardous materials above flood level to lessen the chance of spill and contamination. Secure any above ground storage tanks.

For those whose homes are affected by floods, the Montana Departments of  environmental Quality (DEQ) and Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) have compiled a list of tips for dealing with flood conditions. These tips are available online at both www.deq.mt.gov and www.dphhs.mt.gov.

"Floodwater can contain sewage or harmful chemicals," said Howard Reid, manager of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics program for DPHHS. "One of the most important things people can do to protect their health is to ensure they are not drinking or using contaminated water."

Flood water can contaminate private wells, springs and cisterns and it's up to the owner to make sure the water is safe. Don't use water from a flooded well for any purpose until you've talked with proper health authorities. After a flood you should have the well disinfected and tested to make sure it's safe. Just because it looks and smells safe, doesn't mean it actually is.

  • If flooding has disabled utilities, making it temporarily impossible to disinfect a flooded well, bottled water may be the best alternative. If it is not available, water used for drinking, cooking or washing should be treated in one of two ways:
    • Boil it for 5 minutes and then store in a clean container,
    • mix five drops of household bleach into every quart and let stand at least 5 minutes (preferably 30 minutes to an hour) before using.
  • Discard food that has been exposed to floodwaters. Sealed metal cans and sealed packages with intact protective outer coverings may be salvaged, but they must be carefully cleaned and disinfected before opening.
  • Discard refrigerated and frozen food if the power has been out for more than 6 hours or the food has been warmed to above 45 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 3 hours.
  • Follow this prudent advice, "When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Don't enter a building that has been flooded until there are no doubts about its safety.
  • Follow the instructions of your utility company concerning the restoration of gas and electrical service.
  • Launder flooded clothing and bedding using a disinfectant such as bleach.
  • Discard mattresses and stuffed toys that have been soaked.
  • Steam-clean all carpeting that has been soaked.
  • Wear protective clothing such as rubber boots and gloves while cleaning up debris and scrubbing flood-damaged interiors and furniture.
  • Monitor the radio and other media for current information, including travel restrictions.
For more information about flood safety and cleanup, contact your county disaster and emergency preparedness service:
  • Food and Consumer Safety Section of DPHHS at (406) 444-2408
  • DEQ Public Water Supply Bureau at (406) 444-4400 
  • Montana Office of Disaster and Emergency Services at (406) 841-3911

Contributed by Lisa < lpeterson@mt.gov > METNET:

March 17, 2011

Lisa Peterson
DEQ Public Affairs Coordinator

Howard Reid
DPHHS Food and Consumer Safety

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