(Hauppauge, NY-October 31, 2012)The Suffolk County Department of Health Services (SCDHS) has received reports of fuel spills and potential sewage releases in areas which continue to be affected by standing floodwater, including Lindenhurst, Mastic and several other low-lying areas of the County which have been flooded by Hurricane Sandy.
In addition to obvious safety issues, flooded areas pose environmental health concerns. These flooded areas should be assumed to be potentially contaminated until further notice. Mandatory evacuations are still in place, and residents should not reoccupy residences until advised by local authorities. Any persons who have not evacuated are urged to do so as soon as possible. Shelters are available with clean water, food and provision for overnight stays. The list is available at http://scoem.suffolkcountyny.gov/Home.aspx or by phone at 631-852-4900.
Residents are advised to avoid contact with residual floodwaters. If contact is unavoidable, protective clothing should be worn, such as hip waders, rubber boots and rubber gloves. Protective clothing should be left out of living areas after use, and post-exposure personal hygiene should occur as soon as possible. Children should avoid potential exposures to floodwaters at all times. Boiling water will not be effective if you suspect potential contamination from fuel or other chemicals.
Standing flood water can be a source of diseases such as tetanus. Those exposed should ensure their tetanus immunization (Tdap) is up to date. Exposure to fuel can lead to respiratory problems due to inhalation and to skin conditions due to direct contact. If you suspect exposure to fuel spills by visual evidence (floating product), smell of fuel or official notification you should leave the area and follow evacuation orders. Questions may be directed to the Public Health Hotline 631-787-2200.
The SCDHS is coordinating initial response and recovery with municipalities, local emergency response authorities, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the NYS Department of Health (NYSDOH). SCDHS will be verifying reports of problems to the extent possible.
Reports of fuel discharge, such as visible floating product, sightings of detached tanks, or significant persistent odor, should be provided to NYSDEC at 1-800-457-7362. NYSDEC will manage fuel problems through their Spills Program and has deployed teams to respond to reported problems. SCDHS will provide surveillance inspectors to assist NYSDEC. Reports of suspected sewage contamination or damage to sewage systems should be provided to SCDHS at 631-852-5900.
In general, foods that have come into contact with floodwaters are not safe to eat, and areas which have been subjected to flooding should be decontaminated prior to reoccupation. For additional guidance for specific health safety concerns go to Suffolk County Office of Emergency Management web site http://Scoem.suffolkcountyny.gov/oem/beinformed/recoveringfromadisaster/keepfoodandwatersafe.
Once it is safe to return, basic hygiene is very important. Always wash your hands with soap and water before eating and after toilet use, cleanup activities or handling items contaminated by floodwater or sewage. Wash water should be from a safe public water supply or an acceptable alternative (e.g., bottled water, or a safe private well which has not been impacted by floodwaters).