Health Department offers warnings on how flood waters can pose risks

What to do if flood waters are contaminated

TAMPA - With all this rain comes flooding.  And with flooding comes health risks.  Skin contact with flood waters may not pose a serious health risk, unless the water becomes contaminated.

You may have seen video of people wading through, even playing in flood waters, but Brian Miller, the Environmental Administrator for the Hillsborough County Health Department, warns what you can't see could hurt you.

Flood waters can, "contain a number of chemicals. Obviously we're concerned with fertilizers or any type of chemical run off from what people use on their lawns. It also can contain animal waste and possibly even sewage."

And he warns you won't be able to tell that by looking at or smelling the water. So, if you have to get in the water for any reason, you'll want to use basic hygiene and common sense.

Wash your hands with unaffected, boiled or disinfected water before eating food or drinking.  Bathe and put on clean clothes as soon as possible. Do not eat or drink anything contaminated with flood waters and don't allow your children to play in flood waters.

An open sore can be a gateway for bacteria and viruses as can an open mouth. "They stand a chance of getting some type of infection or even gastroenteritis, like a food-borne illness."

For those that live in rural areas and use well water, Miller says, "The biggest concern there is if the flooding rises above the well head itself. If it's not sealed properly you can get that flood water into the well and it can contaminate that drinking water with bacteria or viruses that can make you sick by drinking the water."

If you notice a change of smell or look in your water, Miller recommends getting the water tested and boiling or disinfecting water by adding the appropriate amount of bleach per gallon until test results come back.

Finally, if you are on a septic system and your plumbing is functioning slowly or sluggishly, you should conserve water as much as possible. The less water used, the less sewage the septic tank must process.

And do not have the septic tank pumped out until the ground has had an opportunity to dry.

For more information, visit or

Print this article Back to Top