Flooding can cause health risks in wells and homes

By Lisa Peterson Montana Department of Environmental Quality

HELENA – Montana’s recent heavy snow falls, combined with frozen ground and a rapid warm up in temperatures, have prompted flood advisories to be issued around the state.

As such, Gov. Steve Bullock on March 10 declared a flood emergency for the state of Montana. The declaration allows Bullock to mobilize state resources and the Montana National Guard, and also expend funds to meet the contingencies and needs that may arise from the emergency.

Flooding can pose a special hazard to people who use private wells for their drinking water both during and after flood events, according to the DEQ.

“We don’t usually think of flooding so early”, said DEQ Director Tracy Stone- Manning, “but the abrupt weather changes make this an unusual year”.

Floodwater 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.

For those whose homes are affected by floods, the Montana Departments of Environmental Quality and Public Health and Human Services have compiled a list of tips for dealing with flood conditions.

Here are a few:

– 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.

– If the power is off so you can’t disinfect your flooded well, bottled water may be the best alternative. If it isn’t available, water used for drinking, cooking or washing should be treated in one of two ways: 1) boil it for five minutes and then store in a clean container, or 2) 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 six hours or the food has been warmed to above 45 degrees Fahrenheit for more than three 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.

– 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.