Health Fears Triggered by Contaminated Flood Waters

by VR Sreeraman on Jul 27 2007 8:04 PM

There were increasing fears for the health of the people affected by Britain's worst floods in living memory Thursday, as thousands were left without fresh water.

The warnings came amid expectations of further water surges in southern England, with six severe flood warnings still in place, as tributaries feeding the River Thames engulfed several areas in the university city of Oxford overnight.

Of mounting concern, however, was the impact of contaminated flood waters on the health of affected towns, with one health expert recommending children not wade into the water.

"There are still very real health risks and hygiene risks -- it's vital people don't become complacent," Professor Ian Cluckie, chairman of the government-backed Flood Risk Management Research Consortium, was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

"The problem is the water ... will become contaminated with raw sewage which means that there will still be E coli in there," Cluckie said, adding that it could lead to cholera or dysentery.

Residents of areas impacted by the flooding could also come under mental strain, with the Health Protection Agency saying in a statement, according to The Times: "The biggest risk is overwhelmingly from mental stress. It is very physically and emotionally draining to deal with."

Utility Severn Trent has set up 900 bowsers -- mobile water tankers -- in Tewkesbury and the nearby cities of Cheltenham and Gloucester, while the army has been drafted in to provide four million litres of bottled drinking water amid warnings that water supplies to parts of Gloucestershire could be cut off for at least two weeks.

Emergency measures have been triggered for the 140,000 homes and more than 350,000 people affected.

Martin Horwood, MP for the Cheltenham area of Gloucestershire, voiced the complaints of several residents of the area, however, when he said he "checked a dozen (bowsers) late last night, and found the majority empty."

Beer tankers have also been used to provide water to places hardest hit, with the British Beer and Pub Association joking that it has been a reversal of its usual job of turning water into beer.

Police warned that a small minority of people were attempting to profiteer from the high demand for clean water by re-selling water, or emptying bowsers with large receptacles.

"That is theft, and that is being treated as theft," said Tim Brain, Gloucestershire police's chief constable.

County authorities said 1,300 portable toilets were being provided for vulnerable people in places like care homes.

Despite the occurrence of localised power cuts, meanwhile, police said widespread blackouts were not now expected.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Wednesday pledged a review of Britain's utilities infrastructure, drainage and flood defences.

Downstream from Oxford, the London commuter town of Reading, the royal castle city of Windsor and Henley, famous for its annual rowing regatta, were among other places threatened as river levels were expected to peak in the next 48 hours.

Weather forecasters predicted more rain Thursday, which could further increase river levels.

The floods in central and western England come less than a month after large swathes of northern England were hit by massive downpours that caused flash floods, cut off towns and affected transport networks.

In the latest cases, rivers topped levels reached during floods in 1947.

Analysts have estimated the floods could cost the insurance industry three billion pounds and hit farmers and food crops.