Health risk from contaminated flood water [Irish Times – 4.01.16]

Flooding poses a variety of health risks, from minor to life-threatening, and from immediate to long-term.

The health risks are far more widespread and serious in developing countries, where flooding can give rise to epidemics as well as promoting vector-borne diseases such as malaria.

The main risk in Ireland’s current crisis, aside from the immediate danger of drowning, hypothermia, electrocution and accident, results from the contamination of water supplies. This is virtually inevitable in serious flooding, given the probability of sewage overflow and runoff from agricultural chemicals.

Some risk

The level of bacteria and other toxins is likely to be low due to dilution, but there is still a risk to health and safety.

The HSE’s somewhat ambitious advice is for people to avoid floodwaters where possible. Where it is absolutely necessary to enter a contaminated area, people are advised to wear protective clothing such as rubber boots and waterproof clothes.

Vigorous handwashing using alcohol-based gel or soap is also advised, even where there has been only limited contact. Wound protection is essential where contaminated water is present; cuts should be washed and covered with waterproof plasters.

Keep kids away

Children should not be allowed to play near floodwaters, and their toys should be cleaned and disinfected before they play with them again.

The risk to water supplies varies according to the type of scheme involved. The current flooding has had only a limited impact on public water supplies, with boil notices issued for a time in Waterford and Ballinasloe.

Homes that take their water from local rivers and lakes may be more vulnerable to contamination.

In the long term, homes will have to be dried out using ventilators, heating and dehumidifiers, but homeowners are warned about the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning due to exhaust fumes.

Contaminated soft furnishings should be thrown out if they cannot be washed or professionally cleaned.


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Simon Chapman
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