Flood Cleanup Safety: Removing Debris

clean up

The floods in Colorado didn’t just damage our physical property. As a community, we’ve been rocked on emotionally and financially as well. As we begin to pick up the pieces and work towards rebuilding our communities, it’s important to be navigate the steps towards rebuilding in a safe manner. The Boulder County website has great information on how to safely clean up all the debris left in the wake of the Colorado floods.

Preparing Materials for Removal

In the first few days after a flood your ability to dispose, recycle or compost flood debris may be extremely limited. Waste transfer stations and recycling facilities are expected to be closed for a time, and trash collection routes may be suspended or delayed. In addition, Police and Fire Departments are asking people to avoid non-essential vehicle trips to allow emergency and utility crews priority on the roads.

Care should be taken when handling any materials from buildings that are damaged by flood water. Protective clothing and equipment should be worn to avoid skin contact and inhalation of disturbed material. All debris should be handled in a manner that will minimize exposure to any hazardous materials that could be present in the debris. Those participating in clean up activities should ensure they are up-to-date on all vaccinations, particularly tetanus.

Inform Landfills You Are Coming

Landfills should be informed that materials are coming from the flood area. Contractors should consult with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at 303-844-5285 to determine required training and personal protective equipment that for those handling this material.

A state-issued demolition permit is not required to remove the debris from buildings that have been partially or completely destroyed. However, the debris must be thoroughly wetted prior to handling to minimize asbestos dust.

Categorizing Materials

In preparation for services returning to normal, or for special collections organized in response to the disaster, residents and businesses are asked to segregate flood debris into categories listed below:

General Waste for Landfill Disposal

  • Carpets, carpet pad, furniture, household goods, drywall, garden debris, bagged household garbage, and spoiled food (if power was out for extended period)

Items Requiring Special Handling

  • Refrigerators, freezers, air-conditioners, and other appliances containing Freon
  • Lawn mowers, snow blowers, and any other equipment with gasoline
  • BBQ-size propane tanks
  • Household hazardous wastes including cleaning, auto, garden, hobby, pet and pool products


  • Commingled recyclables (note: no wet paper or cardboard)
  • Scrap metal and non-Freon appliances


  • Compostable, yard wastes, wet paper and cardboard, etc.

Trash receptacles (“roll-off” containers or dumpsters) are available at collection sites to collect flood-damaged debris. Residents are encouraged to use this resource for safe removal of spoiled food, damaged carpet, household materials and other flood-related debris. The trash receptacles will be emptied daily and will remain in place for a limited period of time, based on need. Do not place items that cannot be sent to landfills, such as electronics, household hazardous waste, or appliances in these receptacles.

Please continue to use your hauler-provided collection containers where possible. Bulky debris should be stored on your property (not in roadways) and preferably in a garage or covered area in case of further rain.

Contaminated Soil

Plastic ground liners, surface contamination, and heavily contaminated soil should be removed from the impacted area if possible. Contaminated soil should be disposed of in an approved landfill, when removed. The remaining contaminated soil should be treated in place with a liberal application of garden lime to reduce odor and enhance degradation of the organic matter.

If the contaminated area is in the open, it should either be covered with clean dirt or temporarily fenced off to prevent accidental contact with the lime and any remaining contamination. After a day or two, mix the lime in with a rake and use a sprinkler or hose to water the lime and any remaining residues into the soil. Prevent any water or soil from entering stormwater by containing it onsite or disposing of it in an approved landfill or approved wastewater dump station. Let the area dry in the sun if possible before allowing access.

Excavated soils may be remediated onsite by treatment with garden lime and should be turned over frequently to provide oxygen to the naturally occurring microbes in the soil that degrade the organic material. If onsite treatment is not possible, or if it can’t be accomplished without creating a nuisance condition, contaminated soils and other materials removed from the impacted area may be disposed of at any landfill willing to accept them.


If asbestos-containing materials are known to be present in flood debris in amounts greater than regulatory trigger levels, they must be removed in accordance with Colorado Air Quality Control Commission Regulation No. 8, Part B. Trigger levels for single family residential dwellings are 50 linear feet on pipes, 32 square feet on other surfaces or the volume equivalent of a 55-gallon drum. If this is not known, the material may be handled as non-asbestos flood debris and disposed of at a permitted landfill.

Learn More About Asbestos

A state-issued demolition permit is not required to remove the debris from buildings that have been partially or completely destroyed. However, flood debris may contain unknown substances, including chemicals. Take care when handling any materials from buildings that either are partially damaged by the floods (i.e., salvageable building materials remaining) or completely destroyed (i.e., only debris remains). All debris should be handled in a manner that will minimize potential exposure to both the people handling the material and those in the surrounding area. The heavy rains and flooding will presumably have resulted in debris that is thoroughly wetted, which should minimize dust and related potential risks from airborne materials during cleanup (including, potentially, asbestos fibers).

Flood soaked or thoroughly wetted asbestos containing materials transported for immediate disposal at the landfills do not need to be wrapped with plastic. Roll-offs and trucks need to be covered to prevent:

  1. The materials from drying out
  2. The material from blowing out of the vehicles between the point of pick-up and disposal.

Transporting Materials

If the material is thoroughly wetted from flood waters/mud, then potential airborne contaminants should be sufficiently contained for short haul and immediate disposal purposes. In addition, handling flood soaked and muddy materials is hard enough; adding plastic wrapping could increase personal injury risk and hamper timely and effective cleanup.

The risks from potential asbestos fibers and other airborne contaminants could increase as the debris dries out. If the material is not thoroughly wetted, then, if possible, the debris should be packaged inside a 6-mil plastic sheeting liner. This is done to contain the debris as it is transported from the site to the landfill.

Protective Equipment

Anyone engaged in cleaning activities may wish to wear respiratory protection, particularly if the cleanup occurs after materials have dried out. A disposable particulate respirator that has been certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to ensure that it can filter out potentially harmful particles, will offer some protection if properly worn.

Commonly available one-strap paper dust masks, which are designed to keep larger particles out of the nose and mouth, typically offer little protection. The same is true for bandanas (wet or dry) tied over the mouth and nose.

Filter material rated “N95” will capture at least 95% of very small particles, while filter material rated “P100” filters out at least 99.97%. Please seek advice from your physician regarding use of respirators if you have pre-existing heart and lung conditions. Other personal protection may include protective clothing and gloves to avoid skin contact and eye protection.

Metal debris must be washed clean of mud/debris prior to recycling. Concrete debris (foundations) removed from a site must be disposed of at an approved landfill. If you wish to recycle this material, it must be inspected by a certified asbestos building inspector and found to be free of asbestos-containing materials prior to recycling.

Septage & Sewage

Many waste water treatment plants were impacted by the flooding. In some cases flood waters inundated domestic wastewater treatment plants resulting in untreated and partially treated sewage leaving the plant and being carried away by flood waters. Likewise, a number of septic systems may have been destroyed or compromised from the flooding. If during cleanup sewage or septage is encountered comingled with other flood debris, the waste does not need to be separated, but can be disposed at a landfill mixed with other flood debris. Take precautions to prevent exposure when working in or around setpage and sewage. Take care to minimize or eliminate contact with the contaminated materials and not spread the septage or sewage.

Contact Information

Lists of and contact information for landfills that will accept flood debris known to contain asbestos-containing material can be found on the Colorado Department of Public Health Environment (CDPHE) Air Pollution Control Division Asbestos Program website.

If you need additional information, please contact Charles Johnson at the CDPHE Solid Waste Unit at 303-692-3348, or the Asbestos Unit at 303-692-3100.

Facilities covered by Water Quality Control Division CDPS stormwater discharge permits and municipalities with MS4 permits must ensure practices are in accordance with the facility Stormwater Management Plan or MS4 CDPS Stormwater Management Program, respectively. For more information about CDPHE Water Quality Control Division requirements, please contact Nathan Moore at 303-692-3555.

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