When considering the effects of floods, it’s common to think about the immediate risks such as drowning or physical distress and to dismiss long term impacts. It is important to acknowledge that even after a flood occurs there is still a significant risk of impacts on one’s health. With intense flood events on the rise it is becoming even more critical for Canadians to understand the various associated threats.
One potential health threat is linked to the contamination of flood water. During a flood, the flood water can mix with hazardous bacteria and chemicals as it travels through various areas. Contact with this contaminated water puts you at risk of infection or contracting a virus. Harmful bacteria can also enter drinking water supplies complicating the issue even further. For such reasons it’s strongly advised that you avoid flood water or any water that may be contaminated for personal use. Actions as simple as washing your hands before handling food or personal products can make a difference. Another health threat is linked to mould caused by floods. After a flood, homes may experience an excess of mould which can bring about breathing difficulties and increase asthma rates (Burton, Rabito, Danielson, & Takaro, 2016). Mould can persist and pose a risk even when moisture has dropped down to acceptable levels. It is very important that homeowners ensure that their house is free of mould during the recovery process.
Mental health concerns are another serious health risk associated with flood events. The Intact Centre for Climate Change discovered that homeowners experienced significantly higher rates of stress following a flood (2018). After experiencing a flood, some individuals may suffer from long-term stress and anxiety, particularly when there are significant rainfall events or the chance of flooding. Financial stress is also common among individuals who have flooded as the recovery period can be long, which often means individuals are spending lots of money on repairs and taking time off work to clean up or make repairs. To cope with the stressors and mental health impacts, factors such as flood insurance and community support are important (Tunstall et al, 2006). Being aware of such factors is also essential when preparing for a flood and allows you to limit associated stress.
The impacts of flooding on a person’s health are wide ranging and can persist even after the flood has ended. To mitigate these health risks homeowners must take the proper precautions and steps when preparing for a flood. Further research can assist in identifying best practices for public health strategies in the face of extreme weather events. A prepared relief program coupled with resilient communities will place Canadians in a more prepared position for the next flood event.
Follow @PARTNERS4ACTION on Twitter for flood-related news and updates.For more information on floods and tips for how to prepare visit FloodSmartCanada.ca. FloodSmartCanada.ca provides people across the country with an easy to use information database full of flood-related content.
Burton, H., Rabito, F., Danielson, L., & Takaro, T. K. (2016). Health effects of flooding in Canada: A 2015 review and description of gaps in research. Canadian Water Resources Journal / Revue Canadienne Des Ressources Hydriques,41(1-2), 238-249. doi:10.1080/07011784.2015.1128854
Decent, D., Feltmate, B. (2018). After the Flood: The Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health and Lost Time from Work. Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation. https://www.intactcentreclimateadaptation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/After-The-Flood.pdf
Kilpatrick, S./The Canadian Press. (2017) What did we learn from 2017's floods in Quebec and Ontario? Inside the politics of water. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/quebec-ontario-floods-water-management-politics/article37511432/
Tang, J./CTV News, 2017. Here’s how much climate change can cost homeowners in damages. https://globalnews.ca/news/3434210/climate-change-cost-homeowners-damages/.
Tunstall, S., S. Tapsell, C. Green, P. Floyd, and C. George. 2006. The health effects of flooding: Social research results from England and Wales. Journal of Water Health, 4: 365–380.