Tips: Preparing for Possible Flooding

As spring approaches, so does the threat of flooding. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) reminds home and business owners in flood-prone areas that by preparing for possible flooding, they can minimize property damage as well as fire and environmental hazards.

Dorene Fier-Tucker, an emergency responder for the MPCA, said that people who have above-ground heating fuel oil tanks in their basements or lower levels should prepare them for possible flooding.

"Because fuel is lighter than water, floodwater that enters a basement may cause a fuel tank to become unstable, tip over and float if it is not secured," she said. "Also, if the tank's vent, fill pipes or other openings are not watertight, floodwater may enter the tank and force the fuel out, into the home or office. In addition to creating possible fire and environmental hazards, the fuel may be absorbed by building materials, such as wood, cinder block, carpet and sheetrock. Once that happens, fuel vapors may persist indefinitely in the building."

Here are some actions that may help prevent spilling or leaking of heating oil from your fuel storage tank in the event of a flood:

  • If you think that floodwater may become high enough to cause your tank to shift or float, have a local bulk fuel distributor remove the fuel from your tank before any flooding can take place. Although this will make the tank more buoyant, it also will prevent leakage of fuel into your home or office in the event floodwater tips the tank over or enters it through an opening. Secure the tank as best you can so it will not turn or tip over should floodwater become deep enough to cause it to float.
  • A less safe alternative is to have your fuel oil tank filled so it will be less likely to float -- secure the tank's vent, fill pipes or other openings, and secure the tank to its saddle or other support so it will not turn or tip over if floodwaters get deep.
  • If floodwater enters your home or office but does not directly come into contact with your tank, monitor the situation to make sure the tank's supports are secure and its stability is not undermined by the water.

Home and business owners also should remove products that will become hazardous wastes from flood-prone basements or other areas of the home or building. Fier-Tucker recommends moving solvents, paints, paint thinners, pesticides, batteries, tires and household cleaners and other chemicals to a place that you are certain will not become flooded. And, it may be prudent to remove canned goods and other foodstuffs where they will be out of harm's way. Should these be damaged by floodwaters, they would become contaminated and have to be thrown away, Fier-Tucker said.

"Finally, it would be wise to put containers of bottled or other potable water in a place that's unlikely to be flooded," she said. "That way, you'll have safe water to drink and cook with should flooding become a reality."

More information about minimizing pollution and health risks from flooding is available on the MPCA's Web site at http://www.pca.state.mn.us/hot/floods.html.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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