Why Floodwater Is So Dangerous—and How to Protect Yourself

Water damage isn’t the only thing you need to worry about.

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When the threat of a flood looms, most people initially worry about the water damage. While it’s true that floodwaters can be destructive to homes and yards, that’s not the only thing you need to worry about: The water itself may be a chemical cocktail that poses a huge risk to your health.

You might think walking through floodwater is no different than walking through a misplaced lake, but this isn’t the case. Floodwater may contain:

  • Illness-causing toxins that it has picked up from the land, such as human and animal waste, industrial or agricultural chemicals, and infectious germs like E. coli or Salmonella.

  • Dangerous debris such as broken glass, nails, or lumber.

  • Downed power lines, which are an electric risk.

Together, these factors create a dangerous environment. Unfortunately, floods may become more common. The climate crisis is expected to bring more precipitation extremes, such as floods and droughts, so many communities may experience this threat to their homes and their health more frequently. (Learn more ways that climate change may affect human health here.)

Floodwater Safety Tips

If possible, it’s best to avoid contact with the floodwaters altogether. If you must contact the dirty water, there are steps you can take to minimize the health risks, such as:

  1. Wear rubber boots, gloves, and goggles. This minimizes your contact with the water and protects your skin from wounds from debris.

  2. Cover any existing wounds with a waterproof bandage. Open wounds are prone to infections like Tetanus, so it’s best to cover them before getting into floodwaters that may contain infectious germs.

  3. Afterwards, sanitize ASAP with soap and clean water, or an alcohol-based sanitizer.

  4. Treat any wounds immediately, and see a doctor if you received any serious wounds from the floodwaters. Here are first aid tips to treat a cut.

  5. Wash contaminated clothing with hot water and detergent.

Floods are already destructive enough, but while you’re looking after your home, don’t forget to look after your health.