Ida: Flood conditions come with health concerns, even far from flood sites

Local News

NEW YORK — In some parts of the tri-state region, floodwaters were cresting on Friday, while in others, the waters had receded, leaving debris in its wake.

In either case, there’s a variety of health hazards to contend with, and some of those hazards aren’t necessarily near the flood zones.

On subway and commuter rail lines, for instance, there are concerns about potential viral spreads due to larger crowds on platforms and in trains — the result of train cancelations and delays that persisted on Friday following station flooding mid-week.

The issue is worst during rush hours, but even during the middle of the day, some riders expressed some worries about having more people congregated, and some not without masks.

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“People with no masks, yes, I’ve seen a couple of them,” one passenger said, before boarding a subway train a few feet away from an unmasked rider.

Michael Johnson, another subway passenger, was headed to the No. 7 train when he spoke with PIX11 about his concerns.

“I’m scared to death on the train,” he said. “I have to stand,” he continued, because he feels that it allows him a greater chance to socially distance.  Otherwise, he said, “[people are] standing right next to each other on the train. It’s crazy.”

Johnson said he always double-masks.

Masks are required in stations and on trains. 

Dr. Dyan Hes, the medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics, who treats viral conditions, said that mask wearing amid the effects of the flooding — and at all times during the pandemic — is vital.

“If you want to be protected from the delta variant, or from any other colds for that matter,” she said in an interview, “flu season is coming, there are rhinoviruses going around, in children there’s a lot of Coxsackie virus, parainfluenza virus. Wear a mask…That’s going to really keep you safe.”

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In communities that got flooded, there are health threats that are a direct result of the  floodwaters, as Dr. Gina Solomon, the principal investigator of the Public Health Institute, pointed out. 

“There can be contaminants in the water,” she said, “and those contaminants can be pathogens, even from sewage, because unfortunately sewer lines can be disrupted from flooding, or there can be chemicals, because for example, gasoline and other chemicals can end up in the floodwaters.”

Dr. Solomon has researched post-flood health effects. She said that concerns are real where we’re still seeing flood waters high and rising in suburban and rural parts of our region, as well as in locations in New York City and other cities in our region, where deep floods have receded. 

“In urban areas,” said Dr. Solomon, “those sediments can have all kinds of contaminants in them.”

She was speaking from experience. She’s been researching the health effects of floodwaters at least since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. 

“After flood waters receded,” she said, “we discovered that contaminants from some hazardous waste sites had moved from those sites into nearby neighborhoods. We also discovered that the flood waters resulted in just horrible mold growth.”

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That can be particularly dangerous for people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses, Dr. Solomon said.
She added that flood conditions, whether the water has receded or not, can result in a variety of medical problems.

“You can end up with, as a health result, dermatitis, which is different kinds of skin rashes,” said Dr. Solomon.  “You can end up, if you happen to have cut, or get a cut or get a cut from something in the flood waters, you can end up with very serious infections. If you get the floodwaters splashed in your eyes, in your mouth, on your hands, you could actually get diarrheal illness, so be careful out there.”

She said that there are relatively simple ways to stay healthy, despite flood hazards. 

“It’s best, if you can, to get those things cleaned up professionally,” she advised, adding that if a professional cleaning isn’t possible around debris, “certainly wear gloves.”

She also said that wearing a Tyvek suit — sometimes called a moon suit — while sifting through flood debris, or otherwise dealing with damage, can be very helpful in staying healthy.

“The most protection you can have on your body to keep yourself from coming into contact with those sediments, the better,” Dr. Solomon said.

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