On September 1, 2021, the remnants of Hurricane Ida hit the New York City area, causing heavy rain and the first-ever flash flood emergency warning for New York City.
Subway lines and streets in Manhattan and Brooklyn were flooded. Basement apartments filled with water, causing more than two dozen deaths across New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania as of this writing. The entire MTA subway service was suspended for a time.
In the aftermath of this historic flooding, New York workers will be tasked with cleanup and rebuilding, and that means potential exposure to life-threatening hazards. Safety must be the top priority.
Key hazards in hurricane cleanup and restoration
Catastrophic flooding can introduce sewage – untreated water containing fecal matter, body fluids, and organic contaminants – into the environment, penetrating wood, concrete, and other building materials. Workers involved in flood cleanup may be exposed to pathogens like bacteria, viruses, mold spores, and protozoans that cause devastating diseases: dysentery, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, and e. Coli poisoning.
Flooding can also cause building materials and flooring to become contaminated with toxic mold. When inhaled, mold spores can cause irritation, allergic reactions, and even infectious diseases. Both living and dead mold can be dangerous, so just killing the mold with bleach does not remove the hazards. Workers need to be equipped with respirators and other personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and goggles.
Other hazards associated with hurricane cleanup include building collapses, electrocution, natural gas explosions, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Workers need to proceed with caution and use appropriate protective equipment.
The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) has prepared valuable resources for workers involved in flood cleanup:
- Protecting Worker & Occupant Health from Sewage in Floodwaters
- Mold Factsheet for Hurricane & Flood Cleanup Workers
- Caution: Hurricane Cleanup Can be Hazardous
We urge New York workers and employers to be mindful of these hazards and prioritize worker and occupant safety over fast remediation. As always, we stand ready to protect the rights of workers injured during the Ida cleanup and its aftermath.