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Environmental Health and Safety Concerns

Oil Spills

To report an oil or chemical spill, such as from a home oil furnace damaged by flooding, call the NYS Spill Hotline at 1-800-457-7362.

For more information on General Permits, please visit: http://www.dec.ny.gov/public/76659.html

What should I do if there is an oil spill in my home?

First, you need to report it. If you see, smell or suspect an oil spill or any type of petroleum release in or near your home, call the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Spill Hotline immediately at 1-800-457-7362 to report the spill.

Second, if the smell of oil is strong in your living space, the indoor air quality is probably not healthy, especially for people with respiratory or cardiovascular disease, pregnant women, young children or elderly people in the house. If you can, temporarily relocate with family or friends until the spill is cleaned up. If you can't, then take these steps to control odors:

  • Keep all doors, stairways, laundry chutes, etc. between the basement and living space closed. Stairways between the basement and the first floor living space that do not have a closable door should be partitioned off with a sheet of plastic.
  • Avoid tracking oil inside the home. Do not wear any shoes in the living space that may have been contaminated with oil.
  • Use fans.
    • EXHAUST BASEMENT AREAS by BLOWING AIR OUT of basement through a single window, with no other basement windows open. If the only opening to the outdoors is a walkout basement door, then a large fan should be placed in the doorway, blowing out. If possible, block or reduce the open space around fans (shroud) to increase the fan's effectiveness. Any windows near the basement exhaust air should be kept closed to prevent contaminated air from re-entering the home.
    • FANS USED IN THE LIVING SPACE should BLOW OUTDOOR AIR IN.
    • Use caution when operating central heating or central air conditioning systems as these could further distribute odors and possibly spread oil into the system.

In some cases, emergency relocation funding is available if oil odors persist after recovery from the flood effects. In New York State, oil tank owners may be legally responsible for costs associated with oil spill cleanups, so if your oil tank was the source of the spill, you would not be eligible for relocation assistance. If your home was affected by an oil spill from a source other than your own oil tank or if you are a renter, you may be eligible for relocation assistance. For more information, contact the New York State Department of Health at 800-458-1158.

What do I do if there is a mixture of oil and water inside my building?

Remove the oil before pumping the water out. For an oil film, absorbent pads may be sufficient to collect the oil. You can get these pads through an environmental cleanup contractor or some automotive supply stores. For a thicker layer of oil, a vacuum truck may be necessary to skim the oil off the water. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation can help you coordinate this work and obtain the needed supplies. Call their spill hotline at 1-800-457-7362.

If you absorb the oil before removing the water from the building, it can cut down on the amount of oil spread on walls and floors and the amount of other damage to your property.

DO NOT pump the water into your yard before removing the oil. The oil may spread and contaminate other areas including nearby wells, water bodies and homes.

How do I control odors from an oil spill?

Take these steps to control odors:

  • Keep all doors, stairways, laundry chutes, etc. between the basement and living space closed. Stairways between the basement and the first floor living space that do not have a closable door should be partitioned off with a sheet of plastic and taped.
  • Avoid tracking oil inside the home. Do not wear any shoes in the living space that may have been contaminated with oil.
  • Use fans.
    • EXHAUST BASEMENT AREAS by BLOWING AIR OUT of basement through a single window, with no other basement windows open. If the only opening to the outdoors is a walkout basement door, then a large fan should be placed in the doorway, blowing out. If possible, block or reduce the open space around fans to increase the fan's effectiveness. Any windows near the basement exhaust air should be kept closed to prevent contaminated air from re-entering the home.
    • FANS USED IN THE LIVING SPACE should BLOW OUTDOOR AIR IN.
    • Use caution when operating central heating or central air conditioning systems as these could further distribute odors and possibly spread oil into the system.

How do I clean oil-coated belongings, debris and building materials?

  • Hard-surfaces such as glass and metal can be cleaned with detergents or other cleaners. You can clean most walls, floors, closets and shelves.
  • Some oil-coated materials are difficult to clean. Porous materials such as wood, boxes, fabrics, sheetrock or insulation will most likely need to be discarded. Take them outside. Stockpile them on plastic and cover with plastic.
  • Use cat litter or other absorbent materials available at home improvement stores to absorb any remaining oil.
  • Check with a professional cleaning company for information on cleaning or deodorizing household furnishings.

How do I dispose of oil-contaminated debris?

  • The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will help you find a nearby disposal site or tell you about a waste pickup scheduled for your area. More detailed information is available at www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/8751.html
  • If you have a question about how to dispose of oil contaminated debris or hazardous waste from a home, call the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at (1-800-457-7362).
  • If you have a question about how to dispose of waste from places other than your house, call the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation at (1-800-457-7362).

When can I restart furnaces and boilers?

Oil-fired furnaces or boilers should not be started until they have been checked by a service technician. The danger is that a furnace or boiler could give off dangerous gases, including carbon monoxide, which can be deadly and must be vented. If a furnace or boiler is damaged, gases may be released in your home. Be sure all vents around tanks and all flue vents are not blocked so that gases can exhaust freely.

Submersion or prolonged exposure to salt water can increase the potential for corrosion. In addition to damage by the storm and flooding, above and below ground storage tanks containing bulk liquids (fuel oil/kerosene) along the coast are susceptible to corrosion by saltwater and should be inspected accordingly. Leakage could contaminate ecosystems and drinking water and be costly to clean up.

What about my drinking water well after an oil spill?

If your well has been contaminated by oil, you will probably smell it in the water. You may also see an oily sheen on the water flooding the well, in the tap water, or in run-off of oil to a well. There may be other ways you know or suspect that oil has contaminated your well. If you think this is the case, do not drink the water.

Notify the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (1-800-457-7362) and/or New York State Department of Health 1-800-458-1158.

What are the potential health effects of heating oil and petroleum?

If there are oil odors in your house, then the indoor air quality is not healthy and it is best to minimize your exposure. If you are experiencing health effects, you should contact your physician or get medical help.

  • Short-term exposure: People who breathe in high levels of oil and petroleum for short periods of time can experience health effects on the nervous and respiratory systems, such as nausea, increased blood pressure, eye irritation, headaches, light-headedness, and poor coordination.
  • Longer term exposure: Similar effects to above as well as possible effects on the blood, liver and kidneys.
  • Individual sensitivities: Some people may see skin irritation or blistering if they come in contact with oil and petroleum products. The elderly, the very young, and people with respiratory diseases may be especially sensitive to the effects of breathing in petroleum vapors.

Where can I get additional information about oil spills and flooding?

"Residential Oil Spills and Flooding" factsheet: http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/indoors/air/oil_spill_flood.htm

Flooded Home Gardens and Crop Fields

Should I eat the produce from my flooded garden?

Probably not. Flood water could be contaminated with raw (untreated) sewage, farm run-off, fuel oil from ruptured fuel oil tanks, industrial contaminants, and germs (such as bacteria and viruses) that are naturally present in the river/creek/lake water. To avoid health risks, it is best to discard ready-to-harvest produce that has come in contact with flood waters.

Can any of my homegrown produce be salvaged?

If you wish to salvage some crops:

  • Do not eat any raw (uncooked) produce. If it cannot be thoroughly cooked, discard it.
  • Discard leafy greens (e.g., lettuce, spinach), even if you are planning on cooking them, because they are difficult to clean well.

My vegetable garden flooded some months ago. Is it OK for me to grow fruits and vegetables in my garden in the next growing season?

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, specialists recommend a period of 30 to 60 days between flooding and planting and/or soil testing before planting. With the passage of time, anything deposited on the soil has been exposed to sunlight, rain, air, and other conditions. This reduces concerns related to microorganisms (for example, bacteria and viruses), which may have been present in the flood water and in the sediment left behind.

Any chemical substances in the flood water were probably diluted and at low levels. Chemicals such as gasoline and fuel oil that might have been released during flooding events are further reduced by sunlight, rain, air, and other conditions. In general, if you do not see signs of chemical contamination, such as staining or sheens, distressed vegetation, or notice chemical odors, then chemical contamination is not likely to be a concern.

My garden flooded some months ago. Should I have my soil tested before I plant fruits and vegetables in the spring?

In general, if you do not see signs of chemical contamination, such as staining or sheens, distressed vegetation, or notice chemical odors, then chemical contamination is not likely to be a concern.

If you think your planting area may contain high levels of chemicals, the only way to know for sure is to test the soil through a certified laboratory. However, this can be expensive and the test results can be hard to interpret, so it is better to avoid planting in those areas.

If you choose to test your soil, you can find a commercial laboratory certified for 'solid and hazardous waste' at the NYSDOH certification program's website at: www.wadsworth.org/labcert/elap/elap.html

Where can I get additional information about gardens?

Fact sheet from University of Wisconsin Extension, "Safely Using Produce from Flooded Gardens" http://outagamie.uwex.edu/files/2010/09/Safely-Using-Produce-from-Flooded-Gardens.pdf

For more general information for gardeners the "Healthy Gardening" factsheet: http://www.health.ny.gov/publications/1301/index.htm

My farmland flooded. Can I grow crops on my farmland this upcoming season?

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, specialists recommend a period of 30 to 60 days between flooding and planting and/or soil testing before planting. Both microorganisms, (such as bacteria and viruses) and chemicals (such as gasoline and fuel oil) that may have deposited on soil from flooding are reduced by sunlight, rain, air, and other conditions. In general, if you do not see signs of chemical contamination, such as staining or sheens, distressed vegetation, or notice chemical odors, then chemical contamination is not likely to be a concern.

If you think your planting area may contain high levels of chemicals, the only way to know for sure is to test the soil through a certified laboratory. However, this can be expensive and the test results can be hard to interpret, so it is better to avoid planting in those areas.

If you choose to test your soil, you can find a commercial laboratory certified for 'solid and hazardous waste' at the NYSDOH certification program's website at: www.wadsworth.org/labcert/elap/elap.html For additional advice related to planting food crops on flood affected properties and soil testing, the US Food and Drug Administration offers guidance available at http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/GuidanceDocuments/FoodDefenseandEmergencyResponse/ucm274683.htm

NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets regulates the agriculture industry and can be reached at 1-800-554-4501 or on the web at http://www.agriculture.ny.gov/TheDepartment.html

 

Flooded Septic Systems

What should I do if my septic system was flooded or damaged?

Don't use the system if the soil around the system is wet and flooded. The wastewater will not be treated and will become a source of pollution.

Once floodwaters have receded, there are several things homeowners should do:

  • Conserve water as much as possible while the system dries out and restores itself and the water table falls.
  • Have your septic system, including the septic tank and any electrical connections, pumps and equipment, professionally inspected and serviced if you suspect damage. Signs of damage include soil erosion on or around the drainfield, drainage through the plumbing is sluggish, and back-up of sewage into the basement.
  • Only trained specialists should clean or repair septic tanks because tanks may contain dangerous gases. Contact your health department for a list of septic system contractors who work in your area. You can find the listing of the environmental program at this web address http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/water/drinking/doh_pub_contacts_map.htm
  • Do not pump the septic tank during flooded or saturated drainfield conditions. At best, pumping the tank is only a temporary solution. Pumping it out could cause the tank to float out of the ground and may damage the inlet and outlet pipes.
  • Do not dig or construct around the septic tank and drainfield while the soil is still wet or flooded.
  • Do not compact the soil over the drainfield by driving or operating equipment in the area.
  • If sewage has backed up into the basement, clean the area and disinfect the floor .
  • Contact your local health department for advice.

Where can I get additional information about flooded septic systems?

http://water.epa.gov/aboutow/ogwdw/upload/2005_09_22_faq_fs_whattodoafteraflood_septic_eng.pdf

Disinfecting Drinking Water Wells

Flood Sediment on Outdoor Properties

Should I be concerned about flood sediment on my property?

Once flood waters recede, deposits of sediment may be left behind on lawns, patios and driveways. Flood waters and sediment can contain microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, and sometimes chemical contaminants. However, because of the large volumes of water that were present, substances that may have been in the water were probably highly diluted and at low concentrations.

Don't worry about casual contact with surfaces that were flooded, but when it comes time to clean up with raking, shoveling or otherwise kicking up dust and debris, it is best to take these precautions:

  • Wear rubber boots, waterproof gloves and eye protection.
  • Wear a dust mask (look for one labeled N95 at the hardware store) to help reduce the potential for inhaling dust and contaminants.
  • Use a shovel to remove thick deposits of moist sediment on hard surfaces like driveways and patios. Thin layers of moist sediment or dried sediment can be hosed off to the lawn or gutter. Avoid sweeping dried sediments with a broom or using a leaf blower as this will make sediments airborne, increasing the potential for breathing the dust, getting it into your eyes or spreading it to other surfaces.
  • Clean children's play equipment and toys, and outdoor surfaces that people will directly contact (such as lawn chairs and picnic tables), with detergent and clean water. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.

What if my skin comes in contact with flood water?

Skin contact with flood water and sediment does not pose a significant risk unless you have an open wound. If an open wound is exposed to flood water or sediment, wash the wound well with soap and clean water, apply antibiotic ointment, and cover with a sterile bandage. If you have a deep cut and/or puncture wounds, see a physician. If you have not had a tetanus vaccination within the past 10 years or are unsure if you have, get a tetanus booster.

Should flood sediment on my property be sampled?

In general, sampling is not necessary for outdoor surfaces such as lawns, patios and driveways. Chemicals present in flood waters are greatly diluted by the large volume of water during floods and the drying-out process will reduce the risk from microorganisms. Also, in most cases, sampling will provide little useful information. If there is an obvious source of chemical contamination such as petroleum or chemical material and odors, the Department of Environmental Conservation should be called at 1-800-457-7362 to report the spill.

Cleaning Up Sediment Deposits

  • Wear rubber boots, waterproof gloves and eye protection.
  • Wear a dust mask (look for one labeled N95 at the hardware store) to help reduce the potential for inhaling dust and contaminants.
  • Use a shovel to remove thick deposits of moist sediment on hard surfaces like driveways and patios. Thin layers of moist sediment or dried sediment can be hosed off to the lawn or gutter. Avoid sweeping dried sediments with a broom or using a leaf blower as this will make sediments airborne, increasing the potential for breathing the dust, getting it into your eyes or spreading it to other surfaces.
  • Clean children's play equipment and toys, and outdoor surfaces that people will directly contact (such as lawn chairs and picnic tables), with detergent and clean water. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.

Cleaning Up Public Areas

Public areas can generally be cleaned in the same manner as homes. However, situations should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if additional measures are appropriate. For example, apart from cleaning hard surfaces on play equipment at a public playground, the sand in sand boxes and mulch or other ground material on playgrounds may need to be removed if flood sediment impacted these areas. Officials may decide to close playgrounds until clean-up is completed. Remind people to use proper personal hygiene (such as washing hands) when public areas are open by placing signs and providing washing facilities.

What should I do if road traffic kicks up dust continually?

Sediments present on roadways after flood waters recede can create excessive dust after they dry out and normal traffic flow resumes. Try to avoid breathing the airborne dust to the best extent practical. When driving, drive slowly so you don't raise dust, keep your vehicle's windows closed, and set your car's fan on recirculate so that air from outside isn't drawn into the car.

Questions About Cleaning Up After A Flood

After flooding, people should follow guidance provided by the New York State Department of Health and other health agencies to protect themselves from biological, chemical, and electrical hazards as they cleanup their properties, homes, and private drinking water wells. Helpful resources and information can be obtained at: www.nyhealth.gov/environmental/emergency/flood/index.htm or by calling your local health department (see below) or the New York State Department of Health at 800-458-1158.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has additional more in-depth information about outdoor sites contaminated with microorganisms. This material is located on their website at: http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/Publications/Guidance_Flooding.htm

Coastal Erosion and Tidal Wetlands Emergency Project Guidelines

Following the storm surges and coastal flooding due to Hurricane Sandy, many projects for stabilization and repair that normally require coastal erosion hazard area and wetlands permits will be covered under a general permit along the coastal areas of Long Island, New York City and the lower Hudson Valley. Such projects include the stabilization of existing dwellings, decks and walkways with temporary bracing and pilings, installation of sandbags or sand cubes at the toe of damaged structures or eroded escarpments, Re-grading eroded dunes, in-kind/in-place repair of stairways or reconstruction of bulkheads and shoreline erosion structures that were functional before Hurricane Sandy and the repair or reconstruction of existing public roads, bridges, utilities and other public infrastructure.