The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reminds residents returning home to take precautions during cleanup following a fire, and offers tips on the best ways to clean up.
While ash from wildfires is relatively non-toxic and like ash that may be found in a home fireplace, it may be irritating to the skin, nose and throat. Ash, dust and debris (particularly from burned buildings) may contain toxic and cancer-causing chemicals, including asbestos, arsenic and lead.
“As residents begin to return home and start cleaning after being evacuated, they are more likely to come in contact with ash and soot, especially in areas that were close to or damaged by fire. We ask everyone to remember that smoke and ash can be harmful to health, even for people who are healthy,” said Muntu Davis, MD, MPH, Health Officer for Los Angeles County.
“If you can see smoke, soot, or ash, or you can smell smoke, pay attention to your immediate environment and take precautions to safeguard your health,” Davis said. “These precautions are particularly important for children, older adults, and people with heart or lung diseases.”
* Do not let children play in or with items covered by the ash.
* During clean-up, wear gloves such as household dishwashing gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid skin contact. If you do get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible.
* A disposable mask with a rating of N-95 or better, which can be purchased from a home/hardware store, can be worn during clean-up to avoid breathing in ash and other airborne particles. They do not protect from gases. N-95 masks must be properly fitted, with no gaps around the edges, for protection. An improperly fitted mask is the same as wearing no mask at all. Follow label instructions on package for proper use. N-95 masks may make it harder to breathe, especially for those with lung or heart disease.
* Avoid getting ash into the air as much as possible. Do not use leaf blowers or take other actions that will put ash into the air. Gentle sweeping of indoor and outdoor surfaces, followed by wet mopping, is the best way to clean an area with ash. A solution of bleach and water may be used to disinfect an area, if desired. Read label on container for proper use.
* Shop vacuums and regular household vacuum cleaners are not recommended to clean up ash. These vacuums do not filter out small particles, but instead blow such particles into the air where they can be breathed. However, HEPA-filter vacuums can filter out small particles and can be used.
* Collected ash may be disposed of in the regular trash by placing it in a plastic trash bag first to prevent the ash from becoming airborne and blowing away as the trash can is later emptied.
* Shower regularly throughout the day when cleaning in and out of areas with ash.
You may have experienced a power outage or could find that your kitchen has ash, soot, dust, and other airborne particles. Follow these recommendations to avoid foodborne illness:
* Any food or drink products with an off odor or signs of spoilage should be thrown out. Best practice is: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
* Generally, food in the refrigerator is safe if the power was out for no more than 4 hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut. Food can be held in the fridge for a few hours if, while the power is out, the doors to the fridge and freezer are kept closed to maintain coldest possible temperatures.
* If a power outage lasts more than four hours or the refrigerator door was not kept shut, it is best to throw away perishable food items such as meat, dairy products and eggs.
* Items that have thawed in the freezer should be thrown away. Do not re-freeze thawed food. All other food items should be inspected to ensure safety.
* Plastic bottles of liquid, such as water, that have been covered with ash should be discarded. It is not enough to rinse off the bottle as these particles contaminate the caps, making them very difficult to decontaminate.
* Food that has not been stored in waterproof or airtight containers and has been covered with ash should be discarded. This includes products that have been stored in cardboard or other soft packaging.
* Food stored in sealed, previously unopened glass or metal cans or jars, such as baby food, should be safe for use. Clean before opening and transfer the contents to another container before eating.
* Dispose of food in trash bags and seal tightly before placing in the trash bin. Double bagging is recommended to prevent fly breeding.
For more information from LA County Public Health on safe clean-up following a fire, click here. http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/media/docs/ReturningHomeAfterAFire.pdf.