Joan Adam, Secretary of Health
South Dakota Department of Health

Flood Response - Cleanup Hazards & Recommendations

CONTENTS: | Sewage back flow | Gas lines | Electricity | Chemical hazards | Carbon monoxide | Musculoskeletal hazards | Fatigue |


Flooded indoor areas must be scrubbed with warm soapy water. Pay particular attention to food-contact surfaces (counter tops, pantry shelves, refrigerators, stoves, cutting boards, etc.) and areas where small children play. Check CDC's Cleaning and Sanitizing with Bleach after the Flood for specific bleach concentrations.


Wash all linens and clothing in hot water or have them dry-cleaned. Items that cannot be washed or dry cleaned, such as mattresses and upholstered furniture, should be air-dried in the sun and then vacuumed and sprayed thoroughly with a disinfectant. Steam clean all carpeting.


If there has been a back flow of sewage into the house, remove and discard any absorbent household materials, such as wall coverings, cloth, rugs, and sheetrock. Be sure to wear rubber boots and waterproof gloves during the cleanup.


Guidelines for cleanup of sewage back flow into buildings


Raw untreated sewage poses a threat to human health. Clean up should commence as soon as possible and proceed as follows:

  • Remove all water, sewage, and contaminated materials

  • Thoroughly clean and mop the area

  • Treat the flooded area with an appropriate disinfectant

  • Dehumidify

  • Replace all absorbent materials

Remember: During clean up protect yourself from contamination by wearing rubber boots, waterproof gloves and protective garments. Wash your hands thoroughly when the job is done. Those persons whose resistance to infection is compromised are considered to be at greater risks, and should not attempt this type of clean up.


Chemical Disinfection: The process of disinfection is important to ensure the elimination of the pathogens (disease-causing bacteria, viruses and fungi) that are present in raw sewage. Thorough cleaning must take place before disinfection to ensure effectiveness.



Household Bleach

1 cup to 5 gallons water
(for details see Cleaning and Sanitizing with Bleach after the Flood)

Phenolic (Lysol and other brand name
disinfectant products)

0.5 - 5%




Recommendation: All absorbent materials which have been exposed to sewage contamination, such as rugs and carpets, wall coverings, cloth, and sheetrock, should be removed and cleaned off-site, or replaced as part of the cleaning process. Water-damaged and contaminated mattresses and other stuffed items (toys, pillows) which are not recoverable should be discarded. (return to top)


Gas lines

When returning to your home, check immediately for leaking gas pipes. Do this by smell only. If you must have light, use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns. DO NOT turn lights on or off and do not use candles, oil or gas lanterns, or torches because, if gas lines are broken, an explosion could occur.


If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve at the meter, open all windows and leave the house. Notify the gas company or the police or fire department. Do not re-enter the house until you are told it is safe to do so. (return to top)



If water has been present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician. Never enter flooded areas or touch electrical equipment if the ground is wet unless you are certain that the power is off. NEVER handle a downed power line.


When using gasoline and diesel generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the "off" position prior to starting the generator. This will prevent inadvertent energizing of power lines from back feed electrical energy from the generators, and help to protect utility line workers from possible electrocution.


If clearing or other work must be performed near a downed power line, contact the utility company to discuss de-energizing and grounding or shielding of power lines. Extreme caution is necessary when moving ladders and other equipment near overhead power lines to avoid inadvertent contact. (return to top)


Chemical hazards

Use extreme caution when returning to your area after a flood. Be aware of potential chemical hazards you may encounter during flood recovery. Flood waters may have buried or moved hazardous chemical containers from their normal storage place, including solvents, aerosol cans, and industrial chemicals.


If any propane tanks (whether 20-lb. tanks for a gas grill or household propane tanks) or drums are discovered, do not attempt to move them yourself. These represent a very real threat, and police or fire departments or your State Fire Marshal’s office should be contacted immediately.


Also, car batteries, while flooded, may still contain an electrical charge, and should be removed with extreme caution, using insulated gloves.


For more information on pesticide and chemical storage, removal, or disposal you can contact the Department of Agriculture at 1-800-228-5254 or the Department of Environment and Natural Resources at 1-800-438-3367.(return to top)


Carbon monoxide

Flood cleanup activities may involve the use of gasoline-or diesel-powered pumps, generators, and pressure washers. Because these devices release carbon monoxide, a deadly, colorless, odorless gas, operate all gasoline powered devices outdoors and never bring them indoors. It is virtually impossible to assess adequate ventilation. NIOSH has investigated several carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in the past caused by the use of gasoline-powered engines indoors or in confined spaces. (return to top)


Musculoskeletal hazards

Cleanup workers are at risk for developing serious musculoskeletal injuries to the hands, back, knees, and shoulders. Special attention is needed to avoid back injuries associated with manual lifting and handling of debris and building materials. To help prevent injury, use teams of two or more to move bulky objects, avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds (per person), and use proper automated-assist lifting devices. (return to top)


Stress, long hours, and fatigue increase the risk for injury and illness

Continued long hours of work, combined with emotional and physical exhaustion and losses from damaged homes and temporary job layoffs can create a highly stressful situation for flood cleanup workers. Workers exposed to these stressful conditions have an increased risk of injury and emotional crisis, and are more vulnerable to stress-induced illnesses and disease.


Emotional support from family members, neighbors, and local mental health professionals can help to prevent more serious stress-related problems in the difficult months ahead.

People working in all phases of flood cleanup can reduce their risks of injury and illness in several ways:

  • Set priorities for cleanup tasks and pace the work over several days (or weeks).

  • Avoid physical exhaustion.

  • Resume a normal sleep schedule as quickly as possible. Get plenty of rest and take frequent rest breaks BEFORE exhaustion builds up.

  • Take advantage of disaster relief programs and services in your community.

  • Be alert to emotional exhaustion or strain. When family members and neighbors are unavailable for emotional support, consult professionals at community health and mental health centers. (return to top)


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