Polk County Health Department

Flood-Related Health Information

Table of Contents
  • Public Health Concerns Related to Flooding
    • Minimize Your Risks
    • Clean up
    • Loss of Electricity
    • Drinking Water Safety
    • Mold Control
    • Mosquito Control
    • Chemicals
  • Resources
Tetanus Vaccinations
Floodwater debris can put people who are cleaning a flooded area at risk for injury. It is recommended that you get a tetanus shot every 10 years. However, if you get a cut or a puncture wound that is exposed to flood water, there is some risk of tetanus and you should be vaccinated if you haven’t had a tetanus vaccination or “booster” in the past five years. The Polk County Health Department can provide tetanus vaccinations for a fee. Call 515-286-3798 or come to 1907 Carpenter Ave, Des Moines.
Public Health Concerns Related to Flooding
Minimize Your Risks
  • Resist the temptation to begin cleaning up before the water recedes. Injuries caused by slippery conditions, poor visibility, floating debris and electrical shock are just a few of the risks.
  • Do not walk or drive in flood water. Items may be submerged in flooded streets and manhole covers may be missing.
  • If you get a cut or a puncture wound that is exposed to flood water, there is some risk of tetanus and you should be vaccinated if you haven’t had a tetanus vaccination or “booster” in the past five years. The Polk County Health Department can provide tetanus vaccinations for a fee.
  • Avoid skin contact with contaminated materials or contaminated water and keep the area well ventilated or, even better, play it safe and leave the area
  • Remove standing water quickly. Discard wet materials that can’t be thoroughly cleaned and dried, including anything made of paper, cloth, wood and other absorbent materials.
  • Dry out the building. Contaminants in flood waters can penetrate deep into porous materials and later get into the air or water. Completely drying out a building will take time, and you may have to remove ceilings, wallboard, insulation, flooring and other materials if they were soaked.
  • Microorganisms will continue growing as long as things are wet and humidity is high. When fumes aren’t a problem and if electricity is available and safe, you can remove moisture by closing windows and running a dehumidifier or window air conditioner.
  • Limit your contact with flood water. Don’t breathe mists from contaminated water.
  • Call the Polk County Health Department 286-3798 or Public Works 286-3705 with questions.
Clean Up
  • Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
  • Wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, N-95 mask, and goggles during cleanup of affected area.
  • After completing the cleanup, wash your hands with soap and water. Use water that has been boiled for 1 minute (allow the water to cool before washing your hands).
    • Or you may use water that has been disinfected for personal hygiene use (solution of ⅛ teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water). Let it stand for 30 minutes. If the water is cloudy, use a solution of ¼ teaspoon of household bleach per 1 gallon of water.
  • Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent. It is recommended that a laundromat be used for washing large quantities of clothes and linens until your onsite waste-water system has been professionally inspected and serviced.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or ill.
    • Inside the Home
      • If water has come in contact with electrical circuits, and if the water rose above the electrical outlets, turn off power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn power back on until electrical equipment has been repaired and inspected by a qualified electrician. Do not enter flooded areas or wet buildings if the power is on. Have an electrician check the house’s electrical system before turning the power on again.
      • Remove and discard items that cannot be washed and disinfected (such as, mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and most paper products).
      • Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.
      • Thoroughly clean all hard surfaces (such as flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures) with hot water and laundry or dish detergent.
      • Help the drying process by using fans, air conditioning units, and dehumidifiers.
    • Outside the Home
      • Have your onsite waste-water system professionally inspected and serviced if you suspect damage.
      • Never assume that water-damaged structures are safe. Leave immediately if shifting or unusual noises signal a possible collapse of the building.
Loss of Electricity
  • Discard refrigerated perishable foods such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheese, milk, eggs, leftovers, and deli items after four hours without power.
  • Never taste a food to determine its safety.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to prevent the unnecessary loss of refrigeration.
  • If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, it's important that the food is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any food borne bacteria that may be present is destroyed.
  • Once the power is restored you will need to evaluate the safety of the food. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature when the power comes back on. If the thermometer stored in the freezer reads 40 degrees F or below the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety. Remember, you can't rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
Drinking Water Safety
  • Flood water can contaminate private wells. No public agency monitors the water quality inside these wells. Do not taste the water to test it.
  • If you have a private well assume the water in your home is contaminated.
  • If you have a private well do not turn on the pump. Don’t flush the well.
  • If you are on a public water system (i.e. the City of Des Moines), listen to your radio or television for news about whether your water is contaminated.
  • Unless you have an open wound, you can shower or bathe in water that may be contaminated. Your risk of getting sick from contaminated water is greatest if you take the water into your mouth.
  • To kill all major water-borne bacterial pathogens, bring water to a rolling boil for one minute. If bottled water is not available and the safety of tap water is questionable, follow these directions to purify it:
    • If you have a heat source available, boil the water vigorously (water should be bubbling and rolling for 1 to 3 minutes). (www.cdc.gov)
    • If you can't boil water, add 8 drops of newly purchased, unscented liquid household bleach per gallon of water, stir it well and let the water stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Note that using bleach will not kill parasitic organisms. (EPA - Emergency Disinfection of Water)
    • You can also use water-purifying tablets from your local pharmacy or sporting goods store. (www.cdc.gov)
  • For infants, if possible, use prepared, canned baby formula that requires no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.
Mold Control
  • The key to mold control is MOISTURE CONTROL.
  • If mold is a problem in your home, you should clean up the mold promptly and dry out the affected area(s) using a wet-dry shop vacuum, fans, dehumidifiers and air conditioners.
  • It is important to dry water-damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
  • Absorbent materials such as ceiling tiles, insulation, dry wall and carpet may have to be discarded if they become moldy. They may be impossible to clean.
  • Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water and dry completely.
  • Wear protective equipment including an N-95 respirator, this would be available through you hardware store. Wear long rubber gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm. Wear rubber boots. Wear goggles for eye protection.
  • After completing cleanup, wash your hands with soap and water. Use water that has been boiled for 1 minute if the source is suspect for contamination (allow the water to cool before washing hands).
  • Wash clothes with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or ill.
  • For more information on mold contact the EPA Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse at 800-438-4318 or visit www.epa.gov/mold.
  • For information to get rid of black mold: https://www.envirosafetyproducts.com/black-mold.html
Mosquito Control
  • Protect yourself from mosquitoes and the diseases they carry
  • Do the best you can to eliminate standing water. Buckets, toys, discarded tires, plugged gutters and many other items can provide harborage for mosquitoes to reproduce.
  • Use a mosquito repellant containing DEET.
  • Avoid being outside during the evening hours when mosquitoes are the most active.
  • Mosquitoes carry diseases such as Encephalitis and West Nile Virus. They should be taken seriously.
  • If you suspect someone has been poisoned by a chemical, call 911 or the national poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
  • If you suspect that a pet has been poisoned by a chemical, call the Animal Poison Control Center toll-free at 1-888-426-4435.
  • Report oil and chemical spills to the local authorities or to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.
  • Wash skin that may have come into contact with dangerous chemicals. Coming into contact with a dangerous chemical may make it necessary for you to remove and dispose of your clothing right away and then wash yourself. Removing your clothing and washing your body will reduce or remove the chemical so that it is no longer a hazard. This process is called decontamination.
  • Be aware of the sources of chemicals and conditions in your area and take steps to protect your health when returning home after an emergency. During emergencies, chemicals are most commonly released from the following sources: businesses and industries (such as chemical plants and oil refineries), storage tanks, agricultural facilities, and homes.
  • Do not combine chemicals from leaking or damaged containers, because doing so might produce dangerous reactions.
  • Do not dump chemicals down drains, storm sewers, or toilets.
  • Do not try to burn household chemicals.
  • Clearly mark and set aside unbroken containers until they can be properly disposed.
  • Leave damaged or unlabeled chemical containers undisturbed whenever possible.
Guides Internet Links to Flood Information

Contact Us

Phone: (515)-286-3798
Fax: (515)-286-2033
Toll free: 866-209-1300

Address: 1907, Carpenter Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50314