For Immediate Release: November 5, 2019

Media Contact:
Ben Truman
Vermont Department of Health
802-951-5153 / 802-863-7281

Health and Safety Guidance for Returning to a Flooded Home

BURLINGTON, Vt – As rivers and floodwaters from last week’s storms begin to recede, state health and public safety officials want Vermonters to take care to avoid illness and injury during damage assessment and cleanup.

Road washouts and downed power lines are still a concern. Please respect road closures and detours, and never drive on a flooded road. If you see a downed power line, do not touch it – assume all lines are energized, and when clearing debris, check to ensure it is not in contact with any power lines.

Homeowners can call 2-1-1 to report flood or wind home damage. This will allow the state to track damage and determine if there is enough damage statewide to seek aid for homeowners. 2-1-1 can also provide information on resources available right now.

Health and safety flood information is available in multiple languages at

Returning home after a flood

  • If your power is out use battery-powered lights to check your home - Do not use lighters or other open flames.
  • If you have standing water in your home and can’t safely turn off the power, call an electrician.
  • Flooded homes should have their electrical systems checked by a licensed professional.
  • Check for combustible liquids, like gasoline, lighter fluid, or paint thinner that may have spilled.
  • Never use a generator indoors. Only operate it outside away from windows, doors, or vents. Exhaust from a generator can cause a deadly buildup of carbon monoxide.
  • Test your fire and carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Homes that have been flooded can be contaminated with mold or sewage, which can cause health risks:
    • Remove all porous items that have been wet for more than 48 hours and that cannot be thoroughly cleaned and dried.
    • Clean hard surfaces, objects and building materials with soap and water.
    • Wash soft items that can be laundered (such as clothes and linens).

Drinking Water Safety
During and after flooding, water can become contaminated with bacteria, sewage, heating oil, agricultural or industrial waste, chemicals and other substances that can cause serious illness. Private drinking water wells that have been flooded should be tested before use.

  • People with private drinking water wells in flooded areas should assume their water is contaminated.
  • Do not use that water for drinking or cooking until a water test confirms it is safe.
  • Don’t use the water if smells of petroleum or fuel.
  • If you are on a public water system, follow your town’s drinking water recommendations.
  • Call the Drinking Water Program at 802-863-7220 or 800-439-8550, or go to for guidance.
  • Call the Health Department Laboratory at 802-338-4724 or 800-660-9997 to order a water test kit.

Food Safety
When it doubt throw it out!
Though the growing season is nearly over, garden produce that has contacted flood water should be discarded. Refrigerated foods are good only up a few hours during a power outage.

  • Don’t eat or drink anything that touched flood water.
  • Throw away any fruit, vegetables – including root vegetables, that have been in contact with flood waters. High growing fruit, such as apples and pears, can be consumed after being washed with water from a safe source.
  • Throw away food that has not been refrigerated properly due to power outages.
    • refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours, a half full freezer will keep the temperature for about 24 hours.
    • Do not cook and eat meat, poultry, fish, eggs or other refrigerated foods that have been above 40 degrees F for two hours or more.
  • Wash your hands with soap and hot water before touching food.

Avoid Injuries and Illness During Cleanup
Cleanup work can be strenuous and an injury risk, compounded by the stress of the situation.

  • Keep children and pets out of the affected area until cleanup is done.
  • Wear sturdy footwear, long­-sleeved shirts and pants. Protect open wounds from flood water.
  • Wear goggles and an N95 respirator (mask) when cleaning up dust, sand, silt, dirt and mold that can get into the air.
  • Be careful when using power tools.
  • Take care to avoid slips, trips and falls.
  • To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never use gas-­powered tools, generators or heaters inside or within a confined area.
  • Wash hands often and well, especially before handling food.
  • Be careful to not overexert. Take rests and drink plenty of liquids.

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Vermont Emergency Management updates:

State road closure information from Vermont Agency of Transportation

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