Quantcast

Report Looks at Health Threats from Flooding in a Warming World

Climate

Union of Concerned Scientists

Extreme precipitation and flooding, likely on the rise in a warming world, carry significant and often hidden health risks, according to a report, After the Storm: The Hidden Health Risks of Flooding in a Warming World, released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“Damage from floods is typically measured in terms of lives lost and the cost of damage to buildings and infrastructure,” said Liz Perera, UCS public health analyst and one of the report’s co-authors. “But what are often overlooked are the potentially costly public health impacts.”

The report calls attention to these impacts by listing the top five health risks of extreme precipitation and flooding—drowning while attempting to drive through rising water; drinking contaminated tap water; being exposed to fouled water bodies; coming into contact with backed-up sewage in your home, and being exposed to mold.

“Over half of all outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the U.S. occur in the aftermath of heavy rains,” said Perera. “Health risks will likely increase as extreme rainfall events are projected to become more common in a warming world.”

Heavy rains can contaminate drinking and recreational water with sewage, petroleum products, pesticides, herbicides, and waste from farm animals, wildlife and pets. Floodwaters may contain more than 100 types of disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites.

“We think of waterborne illnesses as a problem in developing countries, but it’s a very real public health issue here in the U.S.,” said Dr. Marc Gorelick, division chief of pediatric emergency room medicine at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. “Climate change, because it likely causes heavier storms, could threaten our already vulnerable water supply and lead to more cases of gastrointestinal illness.” 

Gorelick conducted a study which found that between 2002 and 2007, there was an 11 percent increase in gastrointestinal cases at Children’s Hospital within four days of heavy rains.

The UCS report also points out that flooded homes and buildings create a breeding ground for mold, which can cause debilitating respiratory and neurological problems. Mental health problems also tend to increase in the wake of extreme weather disasters. These health problems can persist long after flood waters have receded.

Extreme weather events, such as heavy rains, are also creating challenges for waste water and water treatment plants.

“Like many older cities, heavy precipitation can put a strain on New York City’s infrastructure,” said Angela Licata, deputy commissioner for sustainability at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. “We are continually innovating to meet that challenge, while maintaining and improving essential services.”

Other factors that affect flooding risks include where people live, how land is developed and the investments made in building resilience.

For more information, click here.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and coconut oil are fats that have risen in popularity alongside the ketogenic, or keto, diet.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Bijal Trivedi

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on Nov. 13 that describes a list of microorganisms that have become resistant to antibiotics and pose a serious threat to public health. Each year these so-called superbugs cause more than 2.8 million infections in the U.S. and kill more than 35,000 people.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Rool Paap / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be good or bad depending on the situation.

Read More Show Less

By Joe Vukovich

Under the guise of responding to consumer complaints that today's energy- and water-efficient dishwashers take too long, the Department of Energy has proposed creating a new class of dishwashers that wouldn't be subject to any water or energy efficiency standards at all. The move would not only undermine three decades of progress for consumers and the environment, it is based on serious distortions of fact regarding today's dishwashers.

Read More Show Less

By Emily Moran

If you have oak trees in your neighborhood, perhaps you've noticed that some years the ground is carpeted with their acorns, and some years there are hardly any. Biologists call this pattern, in which all the oak trees for miles around make either lots of acorns or almost none, "masting."

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Catherine Davidson

Tashi Yudon peeks out from behind a net curtain at the rooftops below and lets out a sigh, her breath frosting on the windowpane in front of her.

Some 700 kilometers away in the capital city Delhi, temperatures have yet to dip below 25 degrees Celsius, but in Spiti there is already an atmosphere of impatient expectation as winter settles over the valley.

Read More Show Less

The Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington is looking to recruit 10,000 dogs to study for the next 10 years to see if they can improve the life expectancy of man's best friend and their quality of life, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Warragamba Dam on Oct. 23 in Sydney, Australia. Sydney's dams have been less than 50 percent full as drought conditions continue across New South Wales. Brook Mitchell / Getty Images

While Sydney faced "catastrophic fire danger" for the first time earlier this week, and nearly 130 wildfires continue to burn in New South Wales and Queensland, Sydney now faces another problem; it's running out of water.

Read More Show Less