New Yorkers Urged to Make Safety Top Priority in Areas Affected by Floods

Following a Few Health and Safety Tips Can Prevent Injury and Illness

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 28, 2011) - New York State's Health Commissioner and Director of Emergency Management today urged New Yorkers to make health and safety their main priority if they are in areas affected by flooding.

"Most people view floods as a threat to homes and property, but they should also be aware that water damage caused by floods can cause serious health risks," said State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D. "It is important for people to avoid food or water that may have been contaminated by flooding, since these could potentially cause serious illness. We urge all people in affected areas to follow the advice of their local health departments regarding drinking water safety and discard any food that may have become spoiled. Remember, even when floodwaters recede, health threats may remain."

"When it comes to floods, we urge everyone to think safety first," said Andrew X. Feeney, Director of the State Office of Emergency Management. "Always be alert to possible hazards, and use caution and common sense. The key is to think and act intelligently, and always heed the advice of local emergency officials."

The New York State Health Department (DOH) and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) work closely with federal, state and local officials to ensure the health and safety of New Yorkers affected by flooding. As part of the State's Emergency Preparedness effort, DOH contacts and monitors healthcare facilities, water districts, and local health departments to evaluate community needs and identify necessary resources to assist New Yorkers.

Drinking Water Safety

Public or municipal drinking water systems are evaluated by the State and county health departments to determine whether boil water advisories or other actions are needed to ensure safe drinking water. If a boil water order is issued for your community, bring the water to a full rolling boil and maintain the full boil for at least one minute. Any time your drinking water appears cloudy, muddy, or even slightly discolored, it should not be used for drinking or cooking until it is disinfected. 

Private drinking water wells that have been flooded should be tested before they are used. Contact your local health department for information about residential well testing and disinfection. For additional information on drinking water and private drinking water wells, call DOH's Environmental Health information line at 1-800-458-1158.

Food Safety Tips:

To safeguard against foodborne illness, discard any foods that may be contaminated after a flood including:

  • Frozen foods that have been thawed, if they have not been kept refrigerated at 45 degrees F. or lower, or consumed immediately.
  • Any foods exposed to flood waters because of possible contamination.
  • Food that is packed in cardboard containers, screw top jars, or bottles.
  • Canned foods when swelling, rusting or serious denting is visible.

Returning Home After a Flood:

  • Stay informed! Listen to the radio or TV for instructions from local officials.
  • Wait until an area has been declared safe before entering it. Be careful driving; roads may be damaged and power lines may be down.
  • Stay away from downed power lines.
  • Before entering a building, check for structural damage. Turn off any outside gas lines at the meter or tank. Let the building air out to remove foul odors or gases.
  • When entering the building, use a battery-powered flashlight. Do not use an open flame as a source of light. Gas may be trapped inside the structure.
  • When inspecting the building, wear rubber boots and gloves. Watch for electrical shorts and live wires before making certain the main power switch is off.
  • Do not turn on electrical appliances until an electrician has checked the system.

For additional health precautions that people are strongly encouraged to follow, residents can contact their local health department or visit DOH's web page at

Additional safety information can also be found at the State Office of Emergency Management Office web site at .