The sewage and standing water that has been sitting for weeks in hundreds of High River homes is the perfect environment for harmful toxins and bacteria to grow and those exposed should take precautions while cleaning up the contaminants.

Some people have reportedly been feeling ill after being exposed to the contamination for weeks during the cleanup.

Alberta Health Services says it has air monitoring equipment in High River to measure fine dust in the air and the exposure levels are not currently a health concern.

“What we’re most concerned about at this stage is if there has been mould growth as a result of the flood waters or sewage backup into their homes. That they’re taking appropriate protections to protect themselves if they’re doing the cleanup themselves,” Dr, Brent Friesen, Medical Officer of Health for Alberta Health Services.

Dr. Friesen says people should always wear a mask and take a break every one to two hours.

“The affects that people can experience from exposure to the mould is that is causes more of an allergic type reaction so it could be something such as their sinuses in terms of that with a nasal drip. Could be a cough. If they are allergic to mould then they can experience something equivalent to an asthma attack,” said Friesen.

Mike Lucas, an Enervibe Air Quality Investigator, agrees and also says the main health hazard in the community is mould.

“After about 72 hours or so you’re gonna get mould growth, which is the most significant thing you’ll see. You can see growth especially on dry wall,” said Lucas.

Lucas says mould can be remediated by pulling out the dry wall and insulation and in some cases removing building materials right down to the studs.

Lucas tested the mould spore count inside one home in High River and found it to be triple the normal amount.

The levels outside were even worse and in one case, his results indicated a mould spore count that was 10 times the normal amount.

"We’ve got standing water all around the town and you know, people have removed things from their house that maybe covered in mould so now mould is coming out of those kinds of things as well," said Lucas.

AHS says there are a few things people can do to reduce exposure to contaminants caused by flooding:

  • Wear puncture-proof and water-proof boots, particularly if water is present in the house.
  • Wear rubber gloves, as well as sturdy work gloves for cleaning and removing flood-damaged items.
  • Use a tool, such as a shovel, to dislodge or move any debris. Avoid using your hands to recover submerged items.
  • Wear face masks, including a N95 respirator mask (available at hardware stores), if cleaning areas that could contain mould, asbestos or heavy dust.
  • Keep a first aid kit handy (including supplies to clean and cover any cut or wound before commencing clean-up).
  • Remember to bathe or shower using soap and warm water when finished cleaning and wash your clothes.
  • Avoid touching any exposed skin with contaminated gloves or items.

Alberta Health Services: Cleaning the house after a flood: