Low health risk from contaminated flood water

Residents in flood-affected areas have been advised to take sensible precautions as the flooding subsides but have been reassured that there is only a small chance of picking up an infection from contaminated water.

The independent Health Protection Agency has acknowledged that flood waters may have mixed with sewage as drains overflow or been contaminated with agricultural or industrial chemicals as farms and factories flood.

But due to the huge volume of water involved, and the dilution of any infectious microbes or harmless pollutants, the risk of becoming ill is small.

Those who are affected are most likely to escape with an upset stomach, says the agency.

It also points out that the stress of the situation may also make people feel unwell and it is a normal mental reaction to feel sick if your house has been wrecked, you’ve been evacuated from your home or your life has been otherwise disrupted by the flooding.

Wearing protective clothing such as boots and gloves while clearing up, not allowing children to play in flood waters, keeping cuts and scratches covered and taking basic hygiene precautions like washing hands after coming into contact with the dirty water will all reduce the risk, says the agency.

Those who do feel unwell should contact their GP as soon as possible.

Water company Severn Trent, responsible for the supply in much of the affected area, has also urged people not to drink tap water for the time being in areas where the mains was cut off.

The company is attempting to feed 20 million litres a day into hard-hit Tewkesbury as a temporary solution but has warned against consuming the water which, whilst clean when leaving the treatment plant, will have to travel along pipes which have been empty for several days and may have been under flood waters.

“[This] water should not be used for drinking, food preparation, ice-making or cleaning your teeth,” said Andy Smith, water services director for the company.

“The water can be used for bathing, showering and flushing toilets.”

“I need to be very clear about the instructions: if your water supply has gone off already, or is lost shortly, you should not drink the tap water when it comes back on, even after boiling.”

In areas where the mains supply is still off, thousands of people have been collecting water from special tankers, or bowsers, and bottled water is being issued in many areas.

Sam Bond

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