Protect Your Lungs While Working Flood Damaged Fields
I was on the road today and saw some corn silage harvesting has started. On the other side of the mountain, I saw the continuing heroic clean-up in the aftermath of tropical storm Irene. While many of the crops on these flooded fields are complete losses, some will be able to be harvested. A team of UVM Extension specialists have put together excellent, comprehensive information on managing flood damaged crops . Please print off these guidelines for yourselves and provide the information to neighbors and friends that may not have access to the information.
Whether the crop is deemed a complete loss or a partial loss, work will need to be done on those fields. Some may be chopped for feed, while much will need to be turned under. Any field work will likely kick up unusually high amounts of dust. Consider this dust contaminated; I can’t imagine there was any farm field flooding in VT that did not contain septic waste or agricultural animal waste at the least, and may have contained chemical or fuel waste. Besides the possible contaminants, the particulate matter of dust can cause physical irritation of the lungs and trigger asthmatic or other sensitivity reactions. A farmer I talked with spoke of a neighboring farmer that had chopped silty corn after a previous, much less severe flood; this farmer did not wear any respiratory protection and suffered flu-like symptoms for a month after chopping the corn and still has compromised lung function.
Please protect yourself by wearing a dust mask, N-95 or higher. Most cabs on tractors do not have an adequate air filtration system; you need to wear a respirator (dust mask). A good seal needs to be created between the respirator and the wearer’s skin. Sorry, but if you have a beard or mustache, these need to be shaved to get a good seal (you’ll still have time for the beard to regrow before hunting season!). The VT Department of Health has made free respirators available to all district health offices . If you do not live close to a district health office I recommend you contact your town health officer; ask them to get a supply of the free respirators for you.
It is recommended that the respirator be changed every 4 to 6 hours, sooner if it becomes difficult to breathe through. If, after changing to a new respirator, you continue to experience breathing difficulties, stop, get to a dust-free environment and seek medical assistance, letting them know that you have been working in a post-flooding area.
Please be careful in all aspects of this clean-up and protect your lungs to avoid possible long-term lung problems. If you haven’t yet visited the UVM Extension website, you need to – it contains the most extensive listing of post-Irene recovery information and resources I’ve seen anywhere. There is a lot of help available, I don’t want you to miss out on any possibilities for assistance.