HSE urges caution over contaminated flood waters

Contamination of flood waters inevitable given probability of sewage overflow

The HSE has urged members of the public to take adequate precautions to avoid injury and illness when coming into contact with flood waters.

In most instances, contamination of flood waters is inevitable given the probability of sewage overflow and seepage from domestic chemicals.

Although levels of toxins or bacteria are likely to be low, this does pose a risk to health and safety even if the harmful substances have been significantly diluted by rain and river waters.

The HSE’s primary advice is to completely avoid flood waters where possible. However, if it is deemed absolutely necessary to enter an area of possible contamination, people are asked to wear protective clothing such as rubber boots and waterproof clothes.


Vigorous handwashing

Even if there has only been limited contact, this should be followed by vigorous handwashing with warm, soapy water, or with alcohol-based gel.

Foodstuffs that have been submerged in flood waters should not be consumed, even if they are kept in cans or sealed containers, and garden produce should be thoroughly washed and cooked before future consumption.

Boil water notices were briefly enforced in Ballinasloe and Waterford when treatment plants became inundated during Storm Desmond, and although householders are routinely informed of any such risk to the public water supply they are asked to be vigilant for any unusual odour or discolouration affecting their water.

When cleaning and decontaminating property which has been in contact with flood water, one should scrub hard surfaces with hot, soapy water and detergent before disinfecting with a weak solution of bleach.

Soft furnishings

Any accumulations of mud or dust should be removed, and bedclothes, toys and other fabrics should be washed on a hot cycle of 60 degrees or higher. Contaminated soft furnishings should be cleaned professionally or may have to be discarded.

If seeking to dry out a house, it should be kept well ventilated with the heating maintained between 20-22 degrees. Diesel generators should not be used for this purpose in the absence of proper ventilation due to the risk posed by exhaust gases, and the same applies for other fuel-powered equipment.

"The water is not just coming from rivers, it is collecting debris and different oil and things like that on its way, so don't just think it's clean water coming from rivers," said Brendan Lawlor of the HSE.