Flooding is not like a temporary swimming pool or lake. In fact, floodwaters have some of the worst water quality ratings, and contact with floodwater can cause a wide range of health problems from skin infections to vomiting.
Whether your Florida home is in a flood zone, you live near flood-prone areas, or you’re preparing for hurricane season, understanding what’s in your floodwaters can help you avoid the worst outcomes.
Let’s look at what could be in the floodwaters of Florida and what you can do to stay safe.
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Why Are Floodwaters a Health Risk?
A flood will pick up the contaminants from anything the water encounters. For example, if floodwaters overtake homes with septic systems, the sewage and waste water could mix with the floodwaters, spreading to any other area where there’s flooding.
Contaminants can travel locally within a neighborhood, and during bigger flood events, contaminated floodwater from another part of the state could become a local risk because of how the waters flow, mix, and drain.
Most Common Floodwater Contaminations
- Livestock waste
- Bacteria and infectious organisms
- Bleach and cleaning products
- Superfund contaminants
- Live power lines
- Chemicals and pesticides
- Medical and industrial waste
- Coal ash
- Gasoline, battery acid, and hazardous fluids
- Rodents and snakes
What Contaminants Are in Florida’s Floodwaters?
To determine what contaminants are in your floodwater, consider your local environment. If you live near agricultural sites or farmland, your floodwater could contain pesticides, fertilizers, or livestock waste. If you live near manufacturing or industrial facilities, your floodwaters could contain chemicals or other types of industrial waste.
Sewage in floodwater is a notorious problem, and the Orlando Sentinel notes that “Florida’s sewer vulnerability to storms has been well documented.” After Hurricane Irma, the overflow of sewage treatment plants in Jacksonville caused 2.3 million gallons to flow into waterways.
Orlando’s sewage treatment plants were similarly overwhelmed with more than one million gallons of overflow. One waste water pumping station on East Colonial Drive lost 485,000 gallons of sewage into a commercial area that spread into the floodwaters of nearby residential neighborhoods.
What Are the Health Risks After Floodwater Contamination?
It’s clear that floodwaters are unpleasant, but the unsanitary conditions also make them dangerous.
For example, floodwater with sewage will also likely have E. coli, salmonella, and other microorganisms that can cause vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and fever. Even contact with the water can be problematic, causing skin rashes or infections of open wounds.
Common Floodwater Exposure Risks
- Wound infections
- Hepatitis A virus
- Typhoid, paratyphoid, and tetanus
- Skin rashes
- Gastrointestinal illness
- Trench foot
How Can Floodwater Kill You?
An often-overlooked threat of floodwater is electrocution. In addition to bacterial or chemical contamination, a wide area of floodwater can be charged by a live electrical wire or a backfeeding generator. Touching or taking a step into the water can cause shock or death.
On average, about 93 people die each year because of a flood fatality. That includes drowning and other flood risks.
The most common flood fatality is from driving through water, and in 2020, 63 percent of flood fatality victims were driving. About 14 percent of flood fatalities happened while the victims were home, showing just how dangerous flooding can be even at home.
2020 Flood Fatalities in the U.S.
- Driving: 63%
- At home: 14%
- Walking/hiking: 7%
- Other: 7%
- Fell in: 7%
- Working: 1%
- Boating: 1%
How High is Florida’s Flood Risk?
The unfortunate reality for the state’s homeowners is that floods happen frequently, and they can be severe. Florida has the second-highest flood risk in the country, and about 40 percent of the state is a flood hazard area.
Each year in Orlando, the cost of flood damage totals about $350,000, and 14 percent of properties are at risk of flooding. The amount of damage to affected properties can be extensive, and across the state, the average flood insurance claim per property is $29,000.
How Can You Improve Flood Safety and Reduce Property Damage?
Flood preparation is key to protecting your home and loved ones.
During a flood, take important safety measures. Stay out of floodwaters, and if you do come in contact with the flood, wash the area with soap and water as soon as possible. Get medical treatment if necessary. Prevent exposure by wearing rubber boots, gloves, and goggles. Don’t drive through standing water, and call a pro for electrical issues, septic system failure, floating propane tanks, and flooded crawl spaces.
A study about flood mitigation revealed just how important flood preparation is to minimizing damage. An analysis by the Florida Division of Emergency Management revealed that before Hurricane Matthew, about $19 million was invested in flood mitigation projects. That investment helped the state avoid $81 million in losses, and flood mitigation improvements had a 422 percent return on investment (ROI).
The same principle is true for each property owner. Investing in flood mitigation can help reduce damage and save you money. Sump pumps can automatically start pumping floodwater out of your home. Foundation piers can stabilize your structure to help prevent settlement issues from wet soil or flooding. Property drainage can keep floodwater flowing away from your home rather than toward it.
Want expert waterproofing advice on how you can make your home more resilient to flood damage? Get a free inspection from Florida Foundation Authority.