June 26, 2012
NE Minnesota residents reminded to avoid contact with flood water
Officials warn against swimming or playing in flood water; advisory does not apply to Lake Superior beaches
State and local public health officials are reminding Northeast Minnesota residents to avoid unnecessary contact with flood water.
"People need to remember that flood water may be contaminated with sewage, disease-causing germs and other potential contaminants," said Amy Westbrook, Duluth District Epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health. "As much as possible, people should avoid swimming, playing or other contact with flood water-and in particular, they should avoid swallowing it."
Officials are emphasizing that the warning does not apply to Lake Superior outside the Duluth harbor area, or to the beaches along the shore of the lake. The concern, officials say, is with flooded areas along rivers and waterways that flow into the lake.
Playing in flood water can also be dangerous because of physical hazards that may lurk under the surface. "Because flood water ends up in places that aren’t ordinarily under water, there can be a very real risk of injury from submerged objects that aren’t visible from the surface, or by debris that may be carried along with the flood," Westbrook said.
Simple skin contact usually won’t make you sick even if flood water is contaminated, Westbrook said, but you should still take some simple precautions if you can’t avoid exposure. She advised washing up with soap and clean water after being in contact with flood water. She especially emphasized the importance of washing your hands before preparing food, eating, drinking or putting anything in your mouth. She also suggested wearing gloves when dealing with items that may be contaminated with sewage.
Westbrook noted that contact with contaminated water may continue to be a potential concern until all of the sanitary sewer lines in the area have been assessed for damage, and asked the public to be alert for further announcements.
Information about monitored beaches in the Lake Superior area is available at http://www.mnbeaches.org/.
Field Services Epidemiologist
MDH Duluth District Office