Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States and account for approximately 30% of disasters worldwide. Floods are becoming more frequent and severe, due in part to more people living in flood-prone areas and to deforestation and changing land-use patterns. Flooding can cause considerable destruction and disruption and has the potential for widespread disease. Floodwaters frequently contain human or animal waste from sewage or agricultural systems that can lead to outbreaks of infectious disease.
Flash floods are especially hazardous and can occur without warning during heavy rains, tidal surges, or when dams or levees give way. Most deaths during flash floods are caused by drowning, usually from people wading or driving through moving water. The hazards of rapidly moving water are often unrecognized. A gallon of water weighs 8 pounds; hundreds of gallons of rushing water hasthousands of pounds of force. Rushing water can carry a vehicle away, trapping the passengers, or sweep children and adults off their feet.
Children are especially vulnerable to environmental hazards that may be present after floods or other natural disasters including hurricanes/storms. Children are in a critical period of development when toxic exposures can have profound negative effects, and their exploratory behavior often places them in direct contact with materials that adults would avoid. Children, and whenever possible teens, should not be involved in clean-up efforts but should return after the area is cleaned. In short, children should be the last group to return to areas impacted by flooding.
Adults involved in clean-up efforts should consider how children might be impacted by the following issues:
- Habitability – Key issues include restoration of drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities, safe road conditions, removal of solid waste and debris, and replacement or renovation of flood damaged homes. Water supplies and household surfaces can also become contaminated with petroleum products (fuel oil or kerosene), household chemicals, and molds.
- Hazardous clean-up – Contamination of floodwaters poses a hazard to those participating in the clean-up. Rubber boots and gloves should be worn and open wounds and sores protected. Hands should be washed frequently, especially when handling food or food containers.
- Contamination of drinking water – Drinking water must be disinfected through boiling and/or chlorination, or an alternative clean water supply (e.g., bottled water) must be identified and made accessible.
- Food contamination – Foods that may have been contaminated should be discarded. Eating utensils and inside surfaces (especially those used for food preparation) should be cleaned and disinfected.
- Schools and outdoor play areas – Before children return, these areas should be cleaned and disinfected, along with all toys, clothing, etc. Materials that cannot be readily disinfected should be discarded.