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Health Risks of Flood Waters: EPA Guidelines

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cautions the public and emergency responders about the potential hazards associated with flood waters. During heavy rains, sanitary sewers may overflow into floodwaters. Avoid contact with floodwater due to potential contamination with raw sewage and other hazardous substances. Avoid swimming and boating in floodwaters and do not allow children or pets to wade or play in floodwaters.

EPA offers the following guidelines for those in contact with flood water:

- Wash your hands before drinking and eating;

- Wash frequently using soap -- especially disinfecting soap;

- Do not smoke;

- Limit direct contact with contaminated flood water;

- Pay attention to any cuts or open wounds and limit exposure to flood water;

- Pay attention to any unusual symptoms and report them to health care professionals;

- Keep vaccinations current.

The public and emergency response personnel should follow guidelines from federal, state and local health and safety professionals. Early symptoms from exposure to contaminated flood water may include upset stomach, intestinal problems, headache and other flu-like discomfort. Anyone experiencing these and any other problems should immediately seek medical attention.

Children are at greater risk than adults from contaminants carried by flood water. Since they dehydrate faster, they need to drink plenty of fluids. If the safety of your water is in question, either use bottled water or bring tap water to a rolling boil for at least one minute...and let it cool before use.

EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation have compiled other useful information on the web to assist individuals and municipalities address post-flooding clean up concerns. Issues include mold, septic systems, municipal water treatment plants, drinking water and food.

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