‘Microbial soup’ from B.C. floods poses real danger to farmers and volunteers

Swimming in the flood waters are all of the bacteria and parasites routinely found in B.C. sewage plants, such as cryptosporidium, salmonella, E. coli and giardia

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Floodwaters that have devastated B.C. are now a microbial soup laced with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, decomposing bodies of animals and, potentially, petroleum products.

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Along with Merritt’s failed sewage system, there are private septic systems all the way down the Fraser Valley.

“I really feel for these farmers and others facing this devastation. They do need to protect themselves and it’s particularly incumbent that they do so because many don’t have ready access to health care and, at the moment, services are quite strained,” said Tim Takaro, a health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University. “The sewerage issues are immense in a disaster like this.”

People should be wearing gear that includes rubber boots, sealed suits and gloves as well as respiratory protection. But Takaro doubts many of them have access to all of that.

Swimming in what he describes at the “microbial soup” are all of the bacteria and parasites routinely found in B.C. sewage plants like cryptosporidium, salmonella, E. coli and giardia. They cause diarrheal diseases, vomiting, headaches, fever, cramps, nausea and worse. E. coli, for example, can result in complications that can lead to kidney failure and even death.

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As for the chemical stew, there may be eddies where it’s so concentrated that it can burn the skin.

And those are just the immediate risks.

“A lot of that bacteria and parasitic life will be deposited,” the professor said. “So, Joe’s basement is going to be a very ugly place once the water leaves because there’s also going to be mould.”

If there is any good news, Takaro said typhoid, which quite often rips through after floods in other areas is not a risk here.

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has more information on its website about dangers, precautions and how to manage the clean up.


Twitter: @bramham_daphne

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