NJ Urges That Volunteers & Homeowners Protect Themselves During Storm Clean Up

Today’s post comes to us from guest author Jon Gelman of New Jersey. For more information about have your Superstorm Sandy-related insurance claim reviewed by our firm, please read our blog post.

Recently Health Commissioner Mary E. O’Dowd urged those engaged in Hurricane clean up activities to make sure they protect themselves against environmental hazards that may be present in storm damaged homes and buildings. 

Mold, materials containing asbestos and lead-based paint may all be potential hazards in storm damaged buildings. Homeowners and volunteers conducting clean up or remediation work should ensure their safety by wearing protective equipment appropriate for the work they are doing. Protective equipment may include waterproof boots, gloves, goggles and a respirator.

“Homeowners doing clean up work and the volunteers assisting them are critical assets in New Jersey’s recovery efforts, but making sure they protect themselves is equally important,” said Commissioner O’Dowd.

“Homeowners and volunteers may not be familiar with the environmental hazards that may be present in storm damaged buildings or what the appropriate protective measures that are needed,” the Commissioner added.

Those involved in clean up activities should also check with their health care provider to determine if they need a booster shot or tetanus vaccination. Everyone should be immunized with a tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis-containing vaccine. Individuals should receive a tetanus booster if they have not been vaccinated for tetanus during the past 10 years.

People who sustain a wound should check with their healthcare provider to determine if they need to be vaccinated, as the decision will depend on an assessment of the wound and the person’s past immunization history.

Below are some do’s and don’ts for clean up work:


  • Call a professional if you feel the work is too extensive
  • Talk to an environmental health professional about safety and working in a building that has been damaged by the storm
  • Wear appropriate protective equipment including gloves, hard hats, goggle, and boots
  • Wear the appropriate respirator. A single respirator may not protect you against all of the hazards that may be present. A dust respirator will not protect you against vapors from oils or fuels
  • Make sure you are fit to wear a respirator and to conduct the work. Remediation and clean up work can be very strenuous and breathing through a respirator can add additional stress to breathing. Talk with a healthcare professional if you are uncertain about the risks of wearing a respirator
  • Take frequent breaks and remain hydrated
  • Wash hands and any areas where your skin contacts debris


  • Do not enter the building if you are uncertain about the buildings stability or of any hazards that may exist
  • Do not conduct any work without protecting yourself. The conditions in storm damaged buildings may exasperate pre-existing conditions such as asthma, allergies or sensitivity to chemicals
  • Do not mix any chemicals together
  • Do not come in direct contact with flood water or remaining silt or mud. They may contain organic chemicals, pesticides or raw sewage
  • Do not apply chemicals to surfaces to kill mold and bacteria without wearing the appropriate protective equipment. Many times these products contain chemicals and pesticides that can cause reactions if they come in contact with your skin or if they are inhaled
  • Do not remove asbestos containing materials. Only specially trained and licensed contractors should remove these materials

The Department of Health has safety and health related information to assist homeowners and volunteers in their clean-up efforts. These documents are available on our website at www.nj.govhealth. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has important health and safety information on their website. Their information can be found at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/cleanup/facts.asp.

The Department also has environmental and occupation health professionals available to answer questions related to the clean-up effort. An environmental health and safety specialist can be reached by calling the emergency hotline at 1-866-234-0964 or by calling 2-1-1.


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