Environmental Health

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Environmental Health

Director: Jennifer Johnson
Emergency Preparedness and Response
Environmental Health concerns in the aftermath of an emergency include shelter safety, drinking water safety, food safety, sewage disposal, residential safety and clean-up, and solid waste disposal.
Emergency Planning
The key to surviving and staying comfortable during an emergency is preparation. The Skagit County Department of Emergency Management provides planning tools to help you and your family stay prepared for a flood, earthquake, or other disaster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent resource for emergency preparedness and response information.
Shelter Safety
The American Red Cross opens and operates shelters in Skagit County as needed during emergencies. Shelter locations are determined during the emergency specific to the needs of the impacted population. The Red Cross has a search tool to help you locate open shelters .

Environmental Health Specialists from the Health Department work with the Red Cross and inspect open shelters during their operations for food safety and general health and sanitation management.

Drinking Water Safety
Emergency events such as power outages, floods, and earthquakes often impact drinking water systems. It is very important to understand the status of your drinking water after an emergency. Do not drink, brush teeth, wash or prepare food, or wash dishes with contaminated water. If you are served by a public water system you may be contacted by the system manager or the local government to tell you if it is safe to drink your water. Until you know that your water is safe, take emergency measures.

  • Use your stored emergency water supplies. Conserve safe water for essential needs such as drinking and food preparation.
  • Use water from your hot water tank. You will have a drain valve on the tank that you can use to fill containers if your household water lines are compromised.
  • Fill water containers at emergency shelters.

Make Water Safe
Water often can be made safe to drink by boiling, adding disinfectants, or filtering.
IMPORTANT: Water contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals will not be made safe by boiling or disinfection. Use a different source of water if you know or suspect that water might be contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals.

Boiling

If you don't have safe bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling is the surest method to make water safer to drink by killing disease-causing organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites.
You can improve the flat taste of boiled water by pouring it from one container to another and then allowing it to stand for a few hours, OR by adding a pinch of salt for each quart or liter of boiled water.
If the water is cloudy,

  • Filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter OR allow it to settle.
  • Draw off the clear water.
  • Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for one minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for three minutes).
  • Let the boiled water cool.
  • Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.

    If the water is clear,
  • Bring the clear water to a rolling boil for one minute (at elevations above 6,500 feet, boil for three minutes).
  • Let the boiled water cool.
  • Store the boiled water in clean sanitized containers with tight covers.

Disinfectants
If you don't have clean, safe, bottled water and if boiling is not possible, you often can make water safer to drink by using a disinfectant, such as unscented household chlorine bleach, iodine, or chlorine dioxide tablets. These can kill most harmful organisms, such as viruses and bacteria. However, only chlorine dioxide tablets are effective in controlling more resistant organisms, such as the parasite Cryptosporidium.
To disinfect water,

  • Clean and disinfect water containers properly before each use. Use containers that are approved for water storage. Do not use containers previously used to store chemicals or other hazardous materials.
  • Filter it through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter OR allow it to settle.
  • Draw off the clear water.
    • When using household chlorine bleach:
    • Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops; about 0.625 milliliters) of unscented liquid household chlorine (5-6%) bleach for each gallon of clear water (or 2 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of clear water).Add 1/4 teaspoon (or 16 drops; about 1.50 milliliters) of bleach for each gallon of cloudy water (or 4 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of cloudy water).
    • Stir the mixture well.
    • Let it stand for 30 minutes or longer before you use it.
    • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.
  • When using iodine:
    • Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
    • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.

  • When using chlorine dioxide tablets:
    • Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
    • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.

Filters
Many portable water filters can remove disease-causing parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia from drinking water. If you are choosing a portable water filter, try to pick one that has a filter pore size small enough to remove both bacteria and parasites. Most portable water filters do not remove viruses.
Carefully read and follow the manufacturer's instructions for the water filter you intent to use. After filtering, add a disinfectant such as iodine, chlorine, or chlorine dioxide to the filtered water to kill any viruses and remaining bacteria. For more information about water filters, see the Water Treatment Resources section.

Emergency Drinking Water and Well Disinfection during Flood Events

Emergency Water Supply

Emergency Food Safety


Note: Do not use your fireplace for cooking until the chimney has been inspected for cracks and damage. Sparks may escape into your attic through an undetected crack and start a fire.
Identify and throw away food that may not be safe to eat.

  • Throw away food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water.
  • Throw away food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture.
  • Throw away perishable foods (including meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been above 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F) for 2 hours or more.
  • Thawed food that contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees F or below can be refrozen or cooked.
  • Throw away canned foods that are bulging, opened, or damaged.
  • Food containers with screw-caps, snap-lids, crimped caps (soda pop bottles), twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned foods should be discarded if they have come into contact with floodwater because they cannot be disinfected.
  • If cans have come in contact with floodwater or storm water, remove the labels, wash the cans, and dip them in a solution of 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water. Re-label the cans with a marker. Include the expiration date.
  • Do not use contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, wash your hands, make ice, or make baby formula.

Store food safely

While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.

Add block ice or dry ice to your refrigerator if the electricity is expected to be off longer than 4 hours. Wear heavy gloves when handling ice.

Feeding infants and young children

Breastfed infants should continue breastfeeding. For formula-fed infants, use ready-to-feed formula if possible. If using ready-to-feed formula is not possible, it is best to use bottled water to prepare powdered or concentrated formula. If bottled water is not available, use boiled water. Use treated water to prepare formula only if you do not have bottled or boiled water.

If you prepare formula with boiled water, let the formula cool sufficiently before giving it to an infant.

Clean feeding bottles and nipples with bottled, boiled, or treated water before each use.

Wash your hands before preparing formula and before feeding an infant. You can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer for washing your hands if the water supply is limited

Clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces.
CDC recommends discarding wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers. These items cannot be properly sanitized if they have come into contact with contaminated flood waters. Clean and sanitize food-contact surfaces in a four-step process:

1. Wash with soap and warm, clean water.
2. Rinse with clean water.
3. Sanitize by immersing for 1 minute in a solution of 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach (5.25%, unscented) per gallon of clean water.
4. Allow to air dry.

Source: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/foodwater/facts.asp

Shelters or local public works for information on demolition waste removal.


Sewage
Residential Safety and Clean-up
Solid Waste Disposal

Natural disasters can lead to huge needs for solid and hazardous waste disposal. Normal transportation and disposal options will very likely be compromised, leading to delays in disposal. Emergency Management, Public Works Departments, and the Health Department will work to select safe intermediate solid waste disposal locations until the system can return to normal.

In your household and business it is important to prioritize waste containment and disposal according to public health risk as follow:

  1. Hazardous chemicals must be contained to prevent leaks to the ground or water. Use garbage cans, plastic or metal totes, garbage bags, etc. to provide extra containment to any chemicals that are at risk of leaking. Make sure you do not place incompatible chemicals together (do not put bleach and ammonia in the same container). If chemicals have leaked, scoop up impacted soil or other materials and contain in a sealed container or bags. Use information provided through Emergency Shelters or local public works for disposal options or, if the regular solid waste system is functioning, use the Household Hazardous Waste Collection facility for disposal.
  2. Animal carcasses should be buried or otherwise disposed as soon as possible. Ideally carcasses should be buried under three feet of soil. Burial locations should be located away from surface water and drinking water sources. In a large disaster, animal carcass disposal locations may be chosen by emergency management leaders and the Health Department. Check for information through Emergency Shelters or local public works.
  3. Food waste and other putrescible (rotting) wastes need to be contained. Waste food from your refrigerator or freezer needs to be contained and disposed carefully to prevent rodent infestations. If you have home composting you can add your fruit and vegetable waste to your compost and mix well. If the routine solid waste collection system is functioning make sure your food waste is well contained in heavy bags and covered garbage cans and place for pick up. If the routine disposal system is down, contain all food waste that will not be composted in closed leak proof containers and seek disposal information from the Emergency Shelters or local public works. If your garbage cans are not adequate for storage, use your recycling containers and yard waste containers for temporary storage as they are covered and leak-proof. Bags can then be transferred out of these containers for solid waste disposal at the time that disposal is available. In an extreme prolonged emergency, rotting food waste can be buried under three feet of soil away from surface water and drinking water sources.
  4. Moldy water damaged materials should be contained in plastic bags or other closed containers and removed from the living space. These items should not attract rodents and can wait for disposal at a later date if the solid waste collection system is down.
  5. Demolition waste can be piled in locations on your property that will not pose a threat to children pending removal by public works or other emergency service providers. Care should be taken with sharps like broken glass or metals, contain these within other solid containers if possible. Loose insulation should be bagged. This waste will not decay quickly and can wait for community wide clean up for disposal. Check Emergency Shelters or public works departments for information on demolition waste clean up days.