A Weather Related interruption….Dealing with Fuel Spills during floods

Our regularly scheduled blog on Asbestos Remediation has been interrupted today due to flooding

You may be one who checks our Facebook site and has seen the posts recently on flooding basements, dealing with contaminated contents in the home, etc.  However, what if you’ve had a Fuel spill?  We recently had to deal with kerosene that was spilled in the basement of a home we were remediating.  Imagine the scent of kerosene everywhere, mixed in with hundreds of gallons of water, then coating all the homeowner’s belongings!  Obviously the water needs pumping out and the contents removed, but at what point does that become a concern to human health?

First of all, fuel oils can enter and leave your body when you breathe them in the air, when you drink water or eat food containing them, and when your skin comes in contact with them.  Breathing vapor from fuel oil no. 1 (also known as kerosene) for periods as short as one hour may make you feel nauseous, irritate skin and eyes, or affect the nervous system.  Some other effects include headache, light-headedness, loss of appetite, poor coordination, and difficulty concentrating.  Breathing diesel fuel vapors for a long time may damage kidneys, increase blood pressure, or lower the blood’s ability to clot.

So What Should I do?

1:  Stay safe.  Keep children and pets away from the spill.  Consider staying at a hotel or with relatives until the clean up is completed.  Wear clothing that will not soak up oil when cleaning.
2:  Avoid ignition sources, because the spill is a potential fire hazard.
     a.  Do not smoke or light matches near the area.
     b.  Turn off the gas and appliances, if safe to do so.  Extinguish pilot lights on furnaces, water heaters and  gas dryers.  A specially-trained contractor may be required to turn the eqpt back on safely.
     c.  Do not operate engine powered generators or water pumping units.
3:  Report the spill – Please notify the Kansas Department of Health who will advise you what reporting is needed and more information on clean up efforts in your area.
4:  Ventilate – If the fuel oil has spilled indoors, open a window near the area, like in an enclosed basement.    Close vents, windows, and doors that permit the vapors to enter living and work areas.

Are buildings that have been flooded and contaminated with fuel oils safe?

Clean – It’s very difficult to clean up spilled fuel oil completely.  Cleaning will only work with NON-porous building materials.  Concrete, sheet rock and wood are very porous and will not clean up easily.  Since oil and water do not mix, normal flood cleanup techniques will not remove all of the fuel oil.  Check with a fuel oil supplier for special cleaning procedures and materials such a absorbent pads. Absorbing the oil into the pads while the water is still draining will prevent oil from being absorbed by the concrete floor of the basement.
Remove and replace porous materials – Health risks in buildings that have been flooded and contaminated by fuel oils can be reduced by removal of porous materials that have absorbed oil.  Fuel oil contaminated wooden framing or support structures, sheet rock walls, and some cements will off-gas fuel oils for long periods of time. Depending on the saturation level, this off-gassing could last for years.  However, when major structural components of a house are impacted, costs for such activities may easily outweigh the value of the house.
 Check with local county officials for instruction on proper disposal of materials. 
Encapsulate – Encapsulation is NOT recommended when surface contamination is extensive.  This option involves cleaning and sealing surfaces with specialized coatings to prevent gases from escaping.  If the fuel oil has not been completely removed, a health threat remains, and will delay off-gassing and potential health effects until a later date when the seal is broken, due to natural deterioration of the coating or due to remodeling.
We hope the above information has been of help to you.  While no one plans on flood damage, it is best to educate yourself in the safest way(s) to handle a water emergency!

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