What Could Be in Your Floodwaters?

As plumbers serving Virginia and North Carolina, we’ve seen firsthand the devastation that flooding can cause. However, the amount of water isn’t the only issue to worry about during a flood. What’s in floodwaters is also a concern, and the water usually has some of the worst water quality ratings.

By understanding what’s in your floodwaters, you can help improve your safety, protect your property, and avoid the worst outcomes. Below, we’ll break down what could be in the floodwaters of Virginia and North Carolina.

what could be in floodwaters

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Why Are Floodwaters a Health Risk?

As flooding spreads through communities and neighborhoods, the floodwaters will pick up contamination from anything it touches. Depending on where you live, this can include pesticides from farmland, industrial waste from manufacturing plants, fluids from cars, or something else.

These contaminants will spread locally during a flood, and after bigger storms or hurricanes, contaminants could be spread across a wide region as the waters drain into streams and rivers.

One of the most common floodwater contaminants is sewage.

In areas with sewage treatment plants, drainage systems can become overwhelmed with the amount of stormwater flowing into the system from heavy rains. This heavy influx of water means treatment plants will surpass their capacity resulting in overflowing wastewater and sewage. For areas that use septic tanks, sewage is still a problem. The flood will pick up wastewater from leach fields, underground tanks commonly fail, and sewage can leak out.

Most Common Floodwater Contaminations and Threats

  • Sewage
  • 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 the Floodwaters of Virginia and North Carolina?

Your local environment will determine what contaminants are in the floodwaters near your home. At A1 Sewer & Drain, we have seen some notable flood contamination risks in our area.

After a few days of heavy rain in 2020, nine million gallons of sewage overflowed in Hampton Roads. Sewage treatment plants throughout the area were overwhelmed, and overflows also included 2.5 million gallons of sewage in Suffolk and 6.8 million gallons in Seaford.

Another big sewage spill happened during the floods of Hurricane Sandy. About 18 million gallons of raw sewage spilled from a Suffolk treatment plant into Shingle Creek. The proximity to the James River likely spread the contamination throughout the Virginia Beach area.

Contamination has also been detected in Elizabeth City. Forever chemicals, called PFAS, have spread into the groundwater and drinking water. While the spread of these chemicals has not been traced to a single flood, the area’s ongoing water problems create a persistent risk. Flood problems are so significant that 75 percent of homes in Elizabeth City are at risk of flood damage. A little farther north in Moyock, 95 percent of homes are at risk.

What Are the Health Risks After Floodwater Contamination?

Floodwaters could range from unsanitary to dangerously toxic. The CDC recommends avoiding contact with floodwaters, and if that’s not possible, wash the area with soap and clean water as soon as possible.

Because floodwaters frequently contain sewage, there are many bacterial risks including E.coli, salmonella, and coliform. This can lead to vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and fever. Skin problems can also occur because of floodwater contamination, and contact can cause 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
  • Electrocution

How Can You Improve Flood Safety and Reduce Property Damage?

Flood preparations can help you avoid contaminated floodwaters and protect your home from flood damage.

Prevent exposure to contaminated floodwaters by wearing rubber boots, gloves, and goggles. Keep a supply of clean water for drinking, washing, and other household tasks. Install black flow valves in your home to prevent contaminated water or sewage from flowing up through your drains. Maintaining your home’s sewer line can also help you avoid sewage backing up into your home because of overwhelmed drainage systems during a flood.

Each year, flooding causes about $4 billion in damages. About 16 percent of properties are at risk of flood damage in Virginia, and in North Carolina, it’s 15 percent of properties.

Find out how A1 Sewer & Drain can help you protect your home from damaging floodwaters.

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