By John Ramos

GUERNEVILLE (CBS SF) – The Sonoma County Department of Health Services issued a household hazardous waste warning on Tuesday in the aftermath of last week’s storm and subsequent widespread flooding.

When the flood waters receded, places like downtown Guerneville were left a toxic mess. Gasoline, motor oil, weed killers and raw sewage from flooded septic tanks contaminated most of the areas that were submerged by the flooding. By issuing the emergency declaration, county health officials are warning residents as they try to clean up to take precautions in order to avoid making themselves sick.

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“Some of the materials, if you get them on your skin, you can have a rash. Or if they get ingested, they might cause a gastrointestinal illness,” said County Interim Health Officer Karen Holbrook.

Holbrook said other household items to watch out for include adhesives, paint, paint additives, grease/rust solvents, wood/metal cleaners, cosmetics, lighter fluid, pesticides, automotive fluid/parts, batteries and broken thermometers. County officials said none of those products can be disposed of in normal garbage.

A county handbook gives advice on how to clean up without becoming contaminated.  And along with that, officials have been telling residents to be careful to separate out household hazardous waste from junk piles to keep it from fouling the landfills.

But one homeowner named Doc said it’s ridiculous to think flooded residents will take the time to do that.

“You don’t have a choice, you know?” Doc said. “You either leave the stuff laying around or you get busy and you’ve got to get it cleaned up, because you’ve still got to live. You’ve still got to function as a human being.”

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As residents started to clean up after returning home, even if they did separate out the hazardous material, there was no plan for anyone from the county to collect it.  So far, officials have not been picking up debris from people’s homes. But the County Health Officer says the emergency declaration will enable county crews to begin house-by-house collection of hazardous waste.

“This is going to facilitate us being able to go in and collect materials that have already been sorted out and there’s a pile of it, but it’s on private land. And we’re going to be able to collect better in those situations,” said Holbrook.

But Doc argued that since the debris was sitting in toxic chemicals for days, it should all be considered hazardous waste and the county has a responsibility to remove it all.

“This stuff shouldn’t be sitting out here. It should be gone already, but it’s not, he said. Who knows when it’s going to be picked up?” said Doc. “Meanwhile, every time it rains, it contaminates again; back into the ground, back onto people.”

There have been warnings about hepatitis from the raw sewage and the county may begin offering tetanus shots to residents.  For people along the Russian River, this disaster didn’t end when the water receded.

There is updated information about debris removal and pick-up on the county’s website.

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