EPA is coordinating closely with federal, state, local and tribal partners in the wake of Hurricane Ian and reminds communities, families, and business owners affected by the hurricane to take steps to make storm cleanup as safe and effective as possible. “Cleanup activities related to returning to homes and businesses after a disaster can pose significant health and environmental challenges,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator Daniel Blackman. “EPA stands ready to assist our partners on every level to respond to any challenges that may result from Ian and to ensure that public health and the environmental are protected.”
Disasters can generate tons of debris, including building rubble, trees and plants, personal property, and household hazardous wastes. How a community manages disaster debris depends on the debris generated and the waste management options available. Residents should use caution to assure that all waste materials are removed and disposed of properly, following local guidelines. EPA offers several resources and tips for managing debris during storm cleanup:
Use portable generators safely
Never use a portable generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds or similar areas. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide (CO) can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.
Avoid contact with building debris
Debris from damaged homes and buildings can contain hazardous substances, especially in older buildings. Elevated concentrations of airborne asbestos can occur if asbestos-containing materials present in the home are disturbed. Airborne asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal linings. such as lead and asbestos. Lead is a highly toxic metal that produces a range of adverse health effects, particularly in young children. Disturbance or removal of materials containing lead-based paint may result in an elevated concentration of lead dust in the air. When entering a storm-damaged building, at a minimum, wear an N-95 respirator mask, goggles and protective gloves.
Maintain personal safety
Always wear proper safety equipment, such as goggles, an N95 respirator mask, and gloves when handling debris. Be on the alert for leaking containers and reactive household chemicals, such as caustic drain cleaners or chlorine bleach. Clean up and discard chemicals separately, even if you know what they are. Use caution when disturbing building materials to prevent physical injury or other health effects, as they may contain hazardous materials such as asbestos that, when carried by the air, can be inhaled and cause adverse health effects. If you suspect asbestos-containing materials may be present, the materials should not be disturbed.
Separate wastes by type
Storm damage creates many types of household and building debris. Some of these include building materials, such as drywall, brick, and wood; white goods or appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines; clothes, furniture, and other personal items; and household hazardous wastes, including paint, cleaners, automotive fluids, batteries, and pesticides. Separating wastes is crucial for communities to effectively manage the large volume of debris following a storm. Please check with your city or local government for specific guidelines on when and how to separate waste. Learn more about types of debris and how to manage them here: https://www.epa.gov/natural-disasters/dealing-debris-and-damaged-buildings#cautions
Mold can form after floods
Flood water can make the air in your home unhealthy, because when things remain wet for more than two days, they usually get moldy. Inhaling mold can cause adverse health effects, including allergic reactions. Mold also can damage materials in your home. When entering a flood-damaged building, at a minimum, wear an N-95 respirator mask, goggles and protective gloves.
Please visit EPA’s website for more information on indoor air quality safety:
For information on cleanup after flood, see:
Be aware of local resources
EPA has developed this interactive mapping tool of 12 types of recyclers and landfills that manage disaster debris. This tool provides information and locations of over 20,000 facilities capable of managing different materials which may be found in disaster debris. Learn more about this tool here:
For more information on how your community can plan for future disaster cleanups, see:
EPA has important resources available online in English and Spanish about floodwaters, mold, hazardous debris, household hazardous waste, and other hurricane impacts. EPA’s central hub for disaster and hurricane information is available at EPA Hurricanes and EPA Huracanes.