Media reports over the weekend of extremely high levels of bacteria in sampled floodwater collected in Somerset, an area of the UK severely affected by the high levels of rainfall over recent weeks, have alluded to the fact that the area could be unsafe for months.
According to the Environment Agency, up to 40 properties and 65 square kilometres of land have flooded on the Somerset Levels, and with many areas still underwater after a month of record-breaking rainfall, the health risks to the local communities are a real concern.
According to a microbiologist who collected samples on behalf of Sky News, the water held 60,000 to 70,000 bacteria per 100 millilitres compared to the 1,000 bacteria per 100 millilitres the World Health Organisation considers the maximum for agricultural water.
The news station’s expert suggested that water and excrement from local septic tanks and livestock was probably to blame for the extremely high readings and warned the public to be aware of the dangers this posed including the risks of gastrointestinal diseases or diarrhoea.
In response to news report, a Public Health England (PHE) spokesperson, Debbie Stark, a consultant for the Devon, Cornwall and Somerset Centre areas, played down the risks, saying:
“It is unsurprising that samples of flood water have demonstrated the presence of bacteria normally found outside. This should not be compared to bathing or drinking water. Tap water is unaffected.
“Advice has been given regularly to local people about minimising any health risk. This includes avoiding contact with flood water, washing hands and food preparation surfaces and not eating food that has touched flood water. All our experience from previous floods tells us that where people follow health advice there are no significantly increased rates of gastro-enteric illness.”
The run of bad weather and ongoing flooding looks set to continue. The Environment Agency is warning the whole of the south of England is at an increased risk of flooding today (Monday) and Wednesday, as high tides and large waves threaten the south coast, while further rain from Tuesday on already saturated ground could lead to river flooding.
Coastal flooding could affect the south coasts of Devon and Cornwall tomorrow (Tuesday) as well as Somerset, Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, whilst strong winds and high waves could cause flooding along the whole of the south coast on Tuesday and into Wednesday.