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Public Health Advice for the General Public on Flooding and Water Usage in Cork

The following is Public Health Advice for the General Public on Flooding and Water Usage in Cork as advised by the Department of Public Health, HSE South November 24 2009 

The HSE South is advising people to take the following precautions to protect their health during the current period of flooding and subsequent interruption of water supply.


Infection problems arising from floods in this country are rare. Usually any harmful bugs in floodwater become very diluted and present a low risk but there are a few precautions that can be taken:

·        Wherever possible, try to avoid coming into direct contact with floodwater. If you have to go into the water, wear waterproof gloves and rubber boots and remember to be careful of potentially concealed hazards

·        Wash your hands – this is the most important way to get rid of harmful bugs. Use clean warm water, if available, with soap. Rinse and dry your hands after going to the toilet, before eating or preparing food, or after being in contact with floodwater, sewage or with items that have been in the water. Use cold water if there is no warm water (or else hand wipes, sanitizers etc. if there is no water at all)

·        Keep any open cuts or sores clean and prevent them from being exposed to floodwater. Wear waterproof plasters.



Emergency water supplies are being provided in affected areas. People are being asked to bring their own containers for water collection. It is important to ensure your water container is clean before it is filled.

·        As a precautionary measure, you are advised to boil this water before use (this applies to both drinking water and water used for food preparation).

·        All water for drinking and food preparation should be brought to the boil and then allowed to cool before using. Please remember that boiling water can carry a risk of scalding accidents. It is advisable to use a kettle rather than pots and pans. If you must use open containers such as pots and pans, then special care should be taken around young children or vulnerable people. Keep panhandles turned inwards where children / other vulnerable people cannot reach them.

·        Boiled water (subsequently cooled) or bottled water may be used for brushing teeth, washing food, cooking and making ice.


Hand washing

People should ensure that they wash their hands frequently; if no tap water is available, then use the water supply from water tankers in designated areas, bottled water, hand wipes, sanitizers, etc.


Bottle feeding for babies

In preparing formula feeds for infants / babies, it is advisable to use water from one of the water tankers in the designated areas, or bottled water brought to a 'rolling' boil and left covered to cool for no more than half an hour. Then follow the manufacturer's instructions on making up the feed.

Use cooled boiled water or bottled water for cooling the feed once it has been made up. Ready-to-feed liquid formula may be used instead.

All bottled water should comply with all drinking water standards and will be safe to use in preparing baby feed. If you are using bottled water for preparing baby food, be aware that some natural mineral water may have high sodium content. Look at the label for sodium or `Na' and check its level is not higher than 200mg per litre. If the content is higher, then it is advisable to use a different type of bottled water. If no other water is available, then use this water for as short a time as possible. It is important to keep babies hydrated.



If tap water is not available for bathing infants, boiled and cooled tanker water or bottled water are safe alternatives. Another safe alternative to bathing is to use baby wipes for hand cleansing and washing infants.

Similar advice applies to older children and adults.


Toilet flushing

The public are advised to conserve water where possible. It is not necessary to flush the toilet after urination. If there is no water for flushing toilets, other recycled water may be used e.g. water left over after washing, rainwater etc.


Contact lenses

Tap water or tanker water should never be used for cleaning or storing contact lenses since this could cause a rare, but serious, eye infection.



Schools in affected areas that do not have water for drinking, washing or sanitation should consider temporary closure for the duration of the emergency.


Private water supplies

If your water is sourced from a private supply such as a well, then check that it has not been affected by the flood water. If the private well has been covered by flood water, if the water changes colour, taste or smell, or, if you believe the supply has been affected by the flood, assume the water is unsafe to drink unless boiled or sourced elsewhere.




Note: Most of the information in this section can be accessed at: (‘Flooded Homes’ HSE Environmental Health Jan 2009)


The following outlines some basic precautions to keep you and your family safe while cleaning up your flooded home.

Starting off

-         Wash hands with soap and clean water before and after flood cleanup activities

-         Cover cuts / sores with waterproof plasters

-         Wear waterproof boots, plastic or rubber gloves at a minimum

-         Take care with electrics, gas and sharp objects

-         Keep children safe


How and what to clean

-         Remove mud /dust

-         Scrub hard surfaces with hot soapy water and detergent (including walls, hard-surfaced floors and furniture)

-         Wipe over surfaces and disinfect with a weak solution of bleach (following manufacturer’s instructions) 

-         All food preparation surfaces and equipment must be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected (following manufacturer’s instructions)

-         Dispose of any food and associated packaging that had contact with floodwater

-         Wash bedclothes and other soft fabric articles such as children’s soft toys on a hot cycle (60oC or higher). This will destroy most germs that may be present. Other contaminated soft furnishings that cannot be put in a washing machine will have to be cleaned professionally.  If this is not possible they may have to be discarded.


Drying Out

-         Ventilate your home well (open all doors and windows)

-         Remember that generators, dehumidifiers and other fuel-driven equipment should never be used indoors without adequate ventilation.

-         Allow cleaned surfaces to dry completely as germs and mould thrive in wet conditions


Rats and Pests

-         Rats may be on the move after a flood but they are generally wary of humans.

-         Put rubbish in hard bins. If not possible, keep rubbish away from your home.

-         Avoid approaching rats. If you are bitten by a rat, seek medical advice.


Living in your flood-damaged home

-         Try to have some heating on at all times once it has been safety-checked

-         Consider the use of a dehumidifier

-         Ensure the property is well ventilated

-         Leave windows open as much as possible but be mindful of security



If you feel unwell during the current environmental emergency, this does not necessarily mean that you are suffering from any illness associated with flooding.  If you are concerned about yourself or a family member you are advised to contact your family doctor.


Valerie O’Sullivan,

Director of Emergency Services,

Cork City Council,

City Hall,

Cork .

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