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Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Officials Warn of Flood Mud Dangers

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Kara Lofton
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Cleanup in Clendenin

Last week, state health officials warned people about flood waters filled with contaminants, like sewage or gasoline. While they are still urging caution, officials at West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection say the volume of flood water likely diluted the most toxic substances.  

West Virginia’s commissioner of public health, Raul Gupta, continues to stress that flood waters are a dangerous cocktail of contaminants that should be avoided.

“Think about whatever’s on the road at any given point from a vehicle-traffic standpoint, what is beneath the road in terms of sewage, and other disposable substances -- and it all gets mixed up together.”

Gupta says every precaution should be taken when dealing with muds left behind. The major concern is sewage. Bacteria can not only linger for days but grow. Gupta says even imperceptible cuts in skin can provide pathway for diarrheal diseases, or even deadly diseases like tetanus.  So when cleaning, wear gloves and boots, he said, wash hands a lot, and use bleach.

Officials with the Department of Environmental Protection are not as concerned with chemical contamination given the volumes of water that have passed through the hardest hit areas.

David Rogers, Hasselmann Professor of Geological Engineering at Missouri University of Science and Technology, agrees with the DEP.

“The more water you have,” he said, “the more diluted the contaminants are going to be.” He said chemical contaminants are also filtered by clays and sandy channel fills.

“It’s usually not as problematic as people think,” Rogers said.

Rogers also said many chemical contaminants of concern would wind up floating on the surface of the water - that there may be a sheen.

DEP officials report that inspections are underway of areas being remediated - such as the Freedom spill site in Charleston. Coal mining sites and impoundments have also been inspected. No major contamination concerns have been reported.

Rogers also pointed out that dealing with mildew should be a priority.

“The sooner you get the water-borne material out and airing out, the better off you’re going to be to resisting mildew. Major insurance carriers,” he added, “recognize mildew as something that needs to be reckoned with, a potential health hazard, and they treat it very seriously as compared to several decades ago.”


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