Cleaning up After Storms and Floods

It's important to keep your health and safety in mind and know how to reduce risks when cleaning up after storms and floods.

The following fact sheets have been supplied by NSW Health, which provide information and advice for maintaining your health during and after storms and floods.

INFORMATION FOR HOUSEHOLDS

POWER OUTAGE ADVICE

  • Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.
  • Place refrigerated food together to keep food cool/colder longer.
  • If food is warm for longer than 4 hours, throw the food out.
  • Place meat, poultry or fish in the coldest section of your refrigerator, making sure it doesn’t drip onto fresh fruit and vegetables or other ready to eat foods.

HOW LONG WILL MY FOOD STAY COLD?

  • A closed refrigerator should keep your food cool for 4 - 6 hours.
  • Kept closed, a full freezer should keep your food frozen for up to 48 hours, while a half full freezer should keep your food frozen for up to 24 hours.
  • Food that is not within these limits should be discarded.
  • The rate of thaw depends on:
    • The amount of food. A full freezer stays colder for longer than a partially full freezer.
    • Temperature of the food. The colder the food, the longer it will stay frozen.
    • Size and insulation of the freezer.

WHAT TO DO IF THE POWER COMES BACK ON

  • If the power is restored within 4 to 6 hours and your refrigerator/freezer doors have remained closed, some of your food may still be suitable for use. Ideally check the temperature of foods using a thermometer; Cold food must be below 5˚C.
  • Foods in the freezer can be re-frozen if they are 0 degrees Celsius or lower or if ice crystals are visible in the food, otherwise throw out
  • Appearance or smell is not a reliable indicator of food safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been warm too long, they may contain enough bacteria to make people ill. You should discard any food that has an obvious strange colour or odour. If in doubt, throw it out!

WASTEWATER MANGAGEMENT SYSTEMS

Major storm and/or flood events are likely to affected wastewater management systems.

If your AWTS or Septic has been covered by flood waters or has been inundated by stormwater, it is likely that the system is a risk to public health. The uncontrolled ingress of stormwater into a septic tank can flood untreated wastewater out of the tank and into the surrounding environment and waterways. Disease-causing organisms (pathogens) in wastewater can cause serious illness such as hepatitis. Waterborne pathogens can then be widespread once in water and can have major impacts on public health.

WHAT TO DO PRIOR TO AN EMERGENCY EVENT

  1. Sand banking or drainage works around the treatment tank to prevent ingress of stormwater into the system.
  2. Prevent any traffic (human, animal or vehicular) onto the disposal area, this may damage disposal systems and may be saturated with untreated effluent. If you have an Aerated Wastewater Treatment System (AWTS) it is important to ensure the power is off to the system before conducting any works.

WHAT TO DO AFTER AN EMERGENCY EVENT

In the event that your onsite wastewater system has overflowed or flooded from a storm event

  1. Do not access wastewater tank or disposal area if the tank has overflowed or flooded. These areas may be contaminated with untreated sewage which may pose a risk to your health and safety.
  2. Organise a pump-out of the AWTS or septic system to ensure all untreated effluent is removed. Discuss with operator of the pump-out vehicle methods to ensure that the tank does not float out of the ground especially when the surrounding soil is saturated (for both AWTS and Septic Systems).
  3. If you have an Aerated Wastewater Treatment System immediate contact should be made to your service provider to conduct an emergency service on the system. All service reports are to be sent to Council immediately following the service.
  4. After the pump-out of the system cleaning of the tank and surround area is required. This can be done by spreading lime or diluting visible matter with water after the storm event.
  5. Ensure that there is no likelihood of contamination of drinking water from the flooded septic.

CAN I STILL USE MY TOILET?

It is recommended that you still use your toilet and facilities connected to the wastewater system as usual. Do not dispose of untreated wastewater in any other way. However reduction of effluent into the system is recommended until the system returns to normal operating standards. Reducing the amount of toilet flushes and showers is preferable.