SES and EPA work together on floodwater contamination research

SES and EPA work together on floodwater contamination research

04/11/2022, 9:27 AM

The Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES), the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) and Natural Hazards Research Australia are actively working together to better understand and characterise possible contamination issues that may be presented by Victoria’s continuing flood emergency, and any associated pollutants.

Since Monday 31 October, VICSES members have been collecting samples of floodwaters from impacted regions and waterways across Victoria, to further understand the level of risk to human health and the environment.

EPA have prioritised testing these samples for bacteria (E. coli, an indicator for faecal contamination) and a range of trace elements (such as metals and metalloids) and contaminants (organic chemicals such as pesticides, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and petroleum hydrocarbons).

Water samples will be collected once a week for the next three weeks with results made available as soon as possible, along with any necessary health advice.

Floodwater is treated as contaminated water, and usually occurs from naturally occurring sources as well as overflowing sewerage or septic tanks, or agricultural or industrial wastes and chemicals. As floodwater makes its way in our catchments, this testing will further inform our understanding of water quality across the state.

At this stage, sampling from sixteen sites is being worked on with collection from the Snowy River, Goulburn River, Broken Creek, Campaspe River, Loddon River, Murray River, Little Murray River, Lake Nagambie and Lake Eppalock.

The partnership with Natural Hazards Research Australia will ensure the results are shared nationally with emergency services to help them educate communities about the many dangers floodwaters pose.

To protect your health, always assume that all floodwater is contaminated. Avoid contact with polluted water and sediment if possible, and visit the EPA website for more information on how you can stay safe.

Quotes attributable to Tim Wiebusch, VICSES Chief Officer Operations:

“The results of this study will be critical for Emergency Services and the EPA to inform community messaging and guidance for key impacted areas on the risks of floodwater contamination.”

“At VICSES safety drives our decisions, and we continue to emphaise to never walk, drive, or play in flood waters. We see working together with EPA and NHRSC as part of this critical research being vitial to understand the long term affects floodwater may have on our volunteers, other emergency management personnel and of course the community.”

Quotes attributable to EPA Chief Environmental Scientist Professor Mark Taylor:

“We treat all flood water as contaminated, and this testing will give us a greater understanding of what the statewide picture looks like.”

“Our testing of the Maribyrnong River flood waters showed a better result than was expected and hopefully that will be the same in our regions, but our advice remains the same, that you should avoid contact with flood waters where possible.”

Quotes attributable to Natural Hazards Research Australia CEO Andrew Gissing:

“This research is essential to understand the broader harms associated with floodwater and will be shared nationally to inform communities and emergency services regarding the dangers of entering floodwater.”

“Partnerships like this between scientists and practitioners are vital to improve knowledge for the benefit of our communities.”