Hurricane Harvey Environmental Cleanup Work

This post is very similar to one I wrote about the Baton Rouge Flood of 2016, now called by some as “The Great Flood of 2016”.  I’m putting this back out because I want to share information about the obvious (and not so obvious) environmental cleanup problems Hurricane Harvey presents.

Hurricane Harvey certainly left a mess in the aftermath. Mold problems as a result are a hot topic – and rightly so. But there are plenty of other environmental problems awaiting homeowners, business owners, schools, and everyone else.

Hurricane Harvey environmental cleanup is going to take some time – response work, particularly environmental work, must balance speediness and caution.

I know everyone wants to get in, gut out the nasty stuff, and get everything cleaned up and put back together. But sometimes hasty cleanup efforts can make more of a mess if we don’t stop and assess all the potential environmental hazards in our work area.


this isn’t a speedy cleanup

Watching Hurricane Harvey has been heartbreaking. If you’ve ever lived through a natural disaster, you know what I mean. This storm brought two terrible weather elements together – high winds and devastating flooding. Either one can be bad enough, but together, as we saw here, the effects were like something out of a far-fetched movie.
For all of you working to recover at home, work, or both, take heart. Keep pushing forward. From what I see and hear, I’m greatly inspired by the stories of people helping others – many times complete strangers.
There are a lot of mold problems out there, and many of them existed before Hurricane Harvey. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell new mold and moisture problems from years (or decades!) old problems.

everything feels turned upside down

Just as in other storms and floods, I think we’re going to see more mold problems that seem to appear overnight. That’s not entirely true – in some cases the mold was there, maybe for quite a while, waiting for the right opportunity. The right opportunity can take the form of floodwater, roof leaks, or extended power outages where a building’s mechanical system allow the right environment for the mold to take off.


So as you clean up, keep a close watch on your buildings – you may see mold come back where you thought it was cleaned up. Or you may see “new” mold. Either way, make sure to get the areas dry and cleaned up. No one likes mold remediation, and it’s certainly less fun the 2nd, 3rd, 4th time around. Skip that if you can.
get dry as soon as possible

get dry as soon as possible

Here’s something to check out:

we see this a good bit

we see this a good bit

Here’s the same picture, but marked up to show some key observations:
what's the risk?

what’s the risk?

The problem here is there’s no easy way to remediate all the mold that’s there, or to correct the flashing. Most owners will remediate what they can reach, do the putback work, and hope for the best. But the moisture problem this detail causes will likely lead to recurring mold growth.
It boils down to the owner’s risk tolerance – some owners elect to remediate all the materials and correct the flashing – from the outside. That’s not quick, easy, or cheap.

Hurricane Harvey environmental cleanup is going to bring about a lot of renovation and demolition work that will disturb asbestos and lead. Don’t get so focused on mold that you ignore other hazards.

Asbestos and lead are more commonplace than you may think. If you knew how many buildings out there (including homes!) contain asbestos and lead, you may be surprised.
Protect yourself, and others – the good news with asbestos and lead is if you don’t breathe or swallow asbestos or lead, you won’t have a problem. But don’t ignore the potential hazards. And don’t listen to anyone that tells you there’s a date cutoff for use of asbestos or lead.
Many contractors think to check for asbestos and lead before beginning demolition. Others, however, don’t. Contractors may put (or try to anyway) the burden on you or the building owner to notify them of hazardous materials and conditions.
water damage + asbestos = problem

water damage + asbestos = problem

Giving the contractor a comprehensive scope of work is a great idea. While developing the scope takes time, everyone should have a clear understanding of what’s expected – of everyone. And with everything going on, many times emotion clouds people’s recollection of conversations.

Keep in mind the so-called “other” safety hazards. Protect your hands, eyes, head, and even your ears. Slips, trips, and falls remain the number one cause of job site injuries and deaths. Approach all Hurricane Harvey environmental cleanup as you would a real project. After all, that’s what it is, even if you’re doing the work yourself.

Also don’t forget to protect yourself against hazards that may be present in the cleaning chemicals you (or your contractors) will use.

time to go to work

time to go to work

How are you handling Hurricane Harvey environmental cleanup? We have free documents that will help you in recovery work. The documents include:
U.S. EPA Potential Environmental Health Hazards When Returning to Homes and Businesses
The Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company Flood Recovery Recommendations
LSU Ag Center Mold Control Tips
Wynn L. White Consulting Engineers, Inc. Tips for Building Non-Water Sensitive Wall
If you’re interested in checking out these documents, email me.
If you need professional help measuring moisture content or mold sampling, email me.
Stay safe, my friends.