Davis: Flooding brings concerns of contaminated surfaces

It seems this is a year for rain.

Most years we are thankful to get rain in the fall. However, with the recent storms, and the forecast for even more rain, we have concerns of flooding.

I know over the weekend, many roads and farm fields were flooded. I don’t think we fared as badly as some of the neighboring counties, but just in case, it is important to remember a few safety points for gardens or other belongings that may have been contaminated by flood waters.

Water from a weather-related flooding event is not clean. Streams are filled with run-off from roads, businesses, homes, lawns and many other places where people live and conduct their daily routines.

Flood waters will pick up even more pollutants than a stream would normally contain. Faster moving water may also pick up pollutants which would have otherwise settled to the bottom of a stream.

Some flooding also occurs in areas where streams are not usually formed, especially in areas designed for stormwater run-off from roadways or housing developments.

Flood water contaminants can contain much more than large particle contaminants. Mud is the least of problems. There is also a higher potential that flood waters will contain oils, chemicals and other contaminants that could be harmful.

Don’t forget about the microbial contaminants. Microbial pathogens including E. coli, salmonella and listeria often are not removed by simply washing contaminated surfaces with soap and water. Items, surfaces or other structures may need to be sanitized. This may be as simple as using a mixture of bleach and water. However, using industrial formulations of bleach may be required in some instances. There are also other suitable sanitizer formulations other than bleach.

Uneven surfaces may not clean or sanitize well. For instance, wooden surfaces have lots of pore spaces that can harbor dirt and microbes.

Foods that have come into contact with flood waters should be discarded as it is not possible to thoroughly sanitize them. This is especially the case for any gardens where the harvestable portion of plants have come into contact with flood waters.

Besides not being able to adequately clean or sanitize the surfaces of food, it is also possible dangerous levels of microbes could be growing inside contaminated foods. It is better to play it safe and discard garden products that have come into contact with flood waters.

To know more about how to treat items that have come into contact with flood waters, contact our new family and consumer sciences agent Shonda Johnston at the Clark County Extension Service at 859-744-4682.

To find out more about dealing with flooded gardens or agricultural crops, contact me.

David Davis is the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.