Cleaning Up After Harvey and Irma: Environmental Exposures Relating to Floods

The country is doing its best to recover from the catastrophic storms in Texas and Florida, which left many individuals displaced. As people are making their way back to their homes and workplaces, cleanup efforts are underway to address water damage, debris, and contaminated property & air. There are a number of environmental considerations when a flood happens, forcing businesses and municipalities to take a close look at containment, disposal, and remediation. Here is a look at just a few of the exposure concerns that result from floodwater:


After the immediate health and safety concerns are addressed after a flood, homes and buildings can begin to show the effects of moisture. Wet and warm conditions like those in Florida and Houston create the perfect environment for mold growth, and can mean property damage that requires clean up or complete tear down. It can also pose serious health concerns for people, especially after long-term exposure or for those that are elderly or immunocompromised. The biggest health concern is typically developing respiratory illnesses and irritation to the eyes and skin. Mold growth can start in the first 24 to 72 hours after the onset of water damage if not properly addressed and cleaned.

Contaminated Water & Waste Sites

As floodwater passes over potentially contaminated sites, it can carry with it pollutants and bacteria that can impact anything it comes into contact with. In addition to toxins, floodwater contaminated with human/animal waste and dead animals can present a serious risk of illness or infection. Even wading through this water can expose people to a variety of harmful contaminants. Floodwater coming from industrial sites can bring chemicals or toxic waste that will require attention once floodwater recedes.

Air Pollution

When Houston was hit with several feet of rain during Hurricane Harvey, there was concern about potential releases from the refineries and other oil & gas related businesses in the area. Shortly after the storm passed, some people in the area noticed a strong petroleum odor, prompting an investigation which revealed dozens of unplanned air emissions during and after the storm. When industrial facilities of any nature are damaged, chemicals and other toxic substances may be released into the air, causing dangerous air quality conditions for people and animals.


These are just a few of the environmental exposures related to floods, but this highlights some that require immediate attention. We except more efforts to be funneled into environmental contractor/consultant positions to evaluate the problems in these flood-damaged areas, followed by clean up and building efforts to reestablish these devastated cities. If you would like more information on environmental exposures after a natural disaster, or would like to discuss a specific account, please contact us.