University of Illinois Extension
Disaster Resources - University of Illinois Extension

Cleaning Up After a Disaster

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Dealing with Flood Garbage and Water Concerns

After the flood waters recede, the debris that remains can cause serious pollution problems and result in ill health effects.

Please follow these guidelines developed by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to dispose of the flood waste and debris. Any questions about which materials can be landfilled, burned, or recycled will be answered promptly by calling:

Landfilling waste:
Household hazardous waste:
Immediate emergency:
Open burning waste:
Outdoor chemical contamination:

Recycling Flood Waste

Sand and sandbags can be recycled for other household and industrial uses, or they can be used as fill for roads and holes. Common sense should be used. For example, sand that may have come into contact with sewage should not be used in children's sand boxes. Remove bags strewn about the flood area, they can cause a serious pollution problem if they are not disposed of properly.

Household appliances, also known as"white goods,"can be recycled by taking them to a local scrap dealer, who will remove potentially dangerous components. For information on scrap dealers in your area check the yellow pages or call a local appliance retailer.

The IEPA may provide free handling and recycling of damaged metal appliances after the flood waters recede. If local scrap metal dealers are not available to properly remove the potentially dangerous components, which include Freon and mercury switches and PCB capacitors, an option may be to deliver them to an IEPA collection site. Specific locations and other necessary details may be provided when clean-up needs are determined. Please do not dump these items along roadsides, in ditches or in creeks. Tires also must be disposed of properly. Many tire dealers will take back used tires. Consult your local tire retailer or call the IEPA at 217-782-6760. Used tires should never be burned. Your local Cooperative Extension Service may also have this information.

Household Hazardous Flood Waste Disposal

Household hazardous waste products should be disposed of properly to avoid health and pollution risks. After some disasters, the IEPA may offer free disposal of unusable household chemical pollutants in the disaster areas. Until they can be disposed of properly, store the unusable products in a safe location.

The following are just a few examples of common hazardous household products. These contain the same chemicals found in industrial hazardous waste and must be disposed of properly: weed killer, paint, drain cleaner, motor oil, fuel solvents, and insect poisons. Please review the expanded list in this fact sheet.

Sealed Drum and Propane Tank Disposal

Sealed drums with unknown contents should not be handled by untrained persons. Please notify the IEPA Emergency Response Unit at 217-782-3637. To dispose of propane tanks contact the nearest propane distributor. Propane tanks have serial numbers that will allow for identification of tank owners and locations.

Landfilling Flood Waste

You may dispose of the following items in your local landfill: sand, sandbags, plastic sheeting, shingles, insulation, animal carcasses, grain, animal feed, food, carpet, furniture, metal debris and machinery, household appliances.

Although appliances can be disposed of in landfills, components on the appliances that contain Freon, mercury, PCBs and other hazardous chemicals must first be removed by licensed professionals. The IEPA strongly recommends that household appliances be recycled through a local scrap dealer or delivered to an IEPA collection site, if one is available.

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Flood Waste/Garbage Disposal
Recycle Dispose at IEPA Collection Site Landfill Burn
Household appliances, "white goods"
Lawn chemicals
Drain cleaner
Motor oil
Metal polishers
Insect poisons
Air fresheners & deodorizers
Carpet and rug cleaners
Disinfectants and germicides
Floor wax and stripper
Wood preservatives
Furniture polish
Moth balls
Oven cleaner
Toilet bowl cleaner
Pool chemicals
Aerosol products
Sand, sandbags
Animal carcasses
Animal feed
Household appliances**
Metal debris
Tree limbs
Natural wood or plant debris
Agricultural waste-bags or cartons
Dry bedding
Crop residue
* If you want to burn materials that are not listed you must first contact your local fire official and the IEPA at 217-782-2113. A permit may be required.

** Household appliances must have hazardous chemical components removed before they are placed in a landfill.

Burning Flood Waste

Individuals may safely burn tree limbs, brush, natural wood or plant debris, agricultural waste-bags, cartons, dry bedding, and crop residue.

If you want to burn materials that are not on the list, you must first contact the IEPA at 217-782-2113. A permit may be required and a simplified permit application is available. However, local restrictions on open burning may apply and should be considered before burning waste.

When you burn waste, please take the following steps:

  • Coordinate the burn with the local fire station.
  • Conduct the burning when the wind is blowing away from roadways, rairoad tracks, airfields, and populated areas.
  • Supervise or provide supervision on site of the burn location.
  • Avoid exposure to the smoke from the fire.
  • Burn between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. to achieve the best natural disersion of smoke. Be sure to check your local burning ordinance.
Do Not Burn asbestos-containing materials, used tires, shingles, insulation, plastics, plastic sheeting, wood painted with lead paint, household or hazardous chemicals. Those materials can cause serious pollution and health effects if burned.

Drinking Water Concerns After the Flood

Listen for special announcements about local boil orders that may be in effect. Once a BOIL ORDER has been announced, the accepted procedure is to boil the pan of water at a ROLLING BOIL (212°F) FOR ONE FULL MINUTE. Boiling water will generally rid the water supply of microorganisms, but no such substances as nitrates, nitrites or agri-chemicals.

Water used to make ice, brush teeth, or wash dishes also must be boiled. Private water wells should be pumped out, disinfected with bleach, allowed to recharge naturally, and tested before drinking or cooking.

Your local public health department or the Illinois Department of Public Health regional office will provide you with information and assistance in testing your well. Should special testing of water supplies for pesticides or other contaminants be necessary, immediate action will be taken by the IEPA.

This information is provided by the IEPA. For additional flood- related or environmental information call the IEPA Office of Public Information at 217-782-5562 or your local Cooperative Extension Service office.

Issued by Charlotte Crawford and Lois Smith, Extension Educators, Consumer and Family Economics, University of Illinois.

February 1995

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