'Disgusting filth': Bacteria with significant risk to human health found in UK river flood waters

Dangers from recent floods haven't just been to homes and livelihoods but to health as well. ITV News' Martin Stew breaks down exclusive research shared with ITV News showcased the disgusting cocktail threatening people's health

Laboratory results sent to ITV News have shown that flood water samples tested from rivers around the UK have potential to pose a significant risk to human health

The water samples were found to contain high levels of bacteria and pollution, after recent extreme weather had caused the rivers to flood into surrounding areas. 

Round Our Way, a not-for-profit organisation supporting people impacted by climate change in the UK, sent flood water samples to a laboratory to determine the various levels of contamination.

The flood water samples were taken from a child's playground next to the River Severn in Shrewsbury, a housing estate near the river Mole in Surrey, and the River Ouse’s in York. 

In all three areas, according to lab analysis from Oakshire Environmental, results showed ammonia levels that were above UK quality thresholds, and were especially high in Surrey at 6.1 mg/L, compared to 0.1 mg/L in both Shrewsbury and York. 

In Surrey, York and Shrewsbury, flood water samples showed high levels of E.coli or clostridia, indicating fecal organisms in the flood water. 

In Surrey, levels of E.coli were 1,080,000 cfu per 100ml, compared to the “satisfactory” level of 900 cfu/100ml or less.

In Surrey and York, unless the E.coli levels improved to 900 Colony Forming Units per 100 ml's or lower, the environmental agency would advise against swimming in that location. 

“High” levels of bacteria were also found at all locations, and were again especially high in Surrey’s river Mole’s flood water.

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The level of Aerobic Colony Count was 1,240,000 cfu/100ml in Shrewsbury, 570,000 cfu/100ml in York and a “very high” 280,000,000 cfu/100ml in Surrey.

The laboratory results stated that in Surrey and York, the overall flood water results deemed the flood water to be a potential risk to human life.

Dr Gillian Orrow, a GP in Horley warned that climate health and human health are intrinsically linked. 

Speaking about the risks, Dr Orrow 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 - if it gets into the wrong place in our bodies - 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 they go home and eat a sandwich. They could potentially become ill if they have not washed their hands thoroughly."

A sewage works in Surrey is one of the many places across the UK which has flooded in recent months. Credit: ITV News

Roger Harding, Director of Round Our Way, said the results show the “disgusting filth and germs” that people are exposed to when faced with flooding. 

Mr Harding explained: “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.”

Having been a firefighter for twenty-five years, Neil Youngman from Market Harborough, knows how much of a burden flooding can be.

Mr Youngman explains: “There is a huge amount of moral pressure from the public, but it is very difficult because of the lack of funding.

"A fire is a tragedy and we are very sympathetic, but people do not give floods enough mind.

“Ideally all crew would be fully trained in flood rescue work. Fund us, resource us. There are such massive expectations.”

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