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Dangerous levels of bacteria found in flood water from UK rivers

High levels of dangerous bacteria have been found in flood water from UK rivers that could pose a risk to human health.

Water samples taken from a Surrey housing estate close to the River Mole, a street near the River Ouse in York and a Shrewsbury park near the River Severn, found E.coli, faecal matter and ammonia.

It comes after the UK was lashed by Storm Isha and Jocelyn, causing severe flooding in various parts of the country.

An aerial picture taken on January 24, 2024 shows a fallen tree laying down in water following the bursting of the banks of the River Ouse following storm Jocelyn (AFP via Getty Images)
An aerial picture taken on January 24, 2024 shows a fallen tree laying down in water following the bursting of the banks of the River Ouse following storm Jocelyn (AFP via Getty Images)

Round Our Way, a not-for-profit supporting people impacted by climate change in the UK, commissioned the lab analysis from Oakshire Environmental, to find out the level of contamination in the water.

High levels of bacteria was found in all three sites. Ammonia levels were 6.1mg/L in Surrey and 0.1 mg/L in both Shrewsbury and York - all above UK quality thresholds, as reported by ITV.

They all also had high levels of E.Coli, which if ingested can cause diarrhoea and vomiting, and faecal matter.

The overall results showed that the flood water quality in Surrey and York was a potential risk to human life, the broadcaster reported.

Flood water at Naburn Lock on the outskirts of York (PA)
Flood water at Naburn Lock on the outskirts of York (PA)

Roger Harding, director of Round Our Way, said: “All of us want to feel safe at home and know kids are fine if they go out to play, but these results show the disgusting filth and germs people have been exposed to in recent floods.

“The weather climate change brings sadly means the UK is flooding more and more, which is leaving people exposed not just to property damage but also getting really ill.

“It shouldn’t need saying, but people should not have to put up with crap flowing into their streets and parks. We urgently need to see politicians better-protecting people from floods and the climate change that is making them more likely.”

The Met Office has previously warned that is will become hotter and wetter during the 21st century due to the climate crisis and that extreme weather events, such as flooding, will become more frequent.

Dr Gillian Orrow, a GP in Horley, said: “Contact with contaminated flood water can lead to skin and gut infections.

“For example, E. coli bacteria are found in the intestines of healthy people. But if we ingest even small amounts of certain strains of E. coli, it can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.

“So for example, there could be the situation of a football floating in polluted floodwater which a child fishes out, before going home and eating a sandwich. They could potentially become ill if they have not washed their hands thoroughly.”