Recent flooding has caused health implications for flooded sports fields.

SESL Australia

In late April, the aftermath of ex-tropical cyclone Debbie caused significant flooding of the lowland areas across the coastal fringe of Queensland and northern New South Wales. The impacts of flooding are normally measured in terms of property damage, crop losses and unfortunately loss of life. The financial and social costs of these impacts are huge. In Qld alone Cyclone Debbie alone is expected to wipe Billions of Dollars from the State’s revenue.


In the post flood drive to get the State moving again the ‘clean up’ starts almost immediately with the volunteer mud army swinging into action to help their fellow citizens get back on the feet. In this rush, the potential health impacts of the flooded water, silts and muds are often overlooked. The potential for site contamination from flood silts is not considered a real or genuine risk. Contaminants such as heavy metal and asbestos are easily transported in floodwater and the water is a hot bed for microbial activity and pathogens. The potential impacts on health should not be quickly overlooked.


Health implications for flooded sports fields. After recent flooding we have conducted testing of some sports field to check they are free form contaminants.

Immediately post the cyclone Debbie floods, SESL was engaged by a client to assess the potential contaminants on several sports fields. The fields were directly downstream of a major waste water treatment facility and during the floods all their fields were inundated and delivering a fine layer of silt and flood water across their field. Understandably the client was concerned what impacts this flood material may have on the health of their player.


To assess this SESL collected grab samples of topsoil from across the flooded areas. These sample were analysed for anticipated contaminants including metals, pesticides and microbiologic. Testing was conducted approximately ten days after the flood waters had receded. The results from the analysis were surprising, metals and pesticides were within normal ranges for sports fields, however the microbiological testing indicated high/ unacceptable levels of E. coli still present within the topsoil. Resulting in the field requiring quarantining for additional two weeks and second testing screen to ensure they would be safe for use. Fortunately, after the second round of testing the field were safe for use. Had the client had the traditional attitude of ‘she’ll be right mate’ and let play commence prematurely, there would have been a potential health risk, particularly as the football season was happening and direct contact to the soil by people would have occurred.  


SESL would recommend to all sport field managers post flooding assessments be conducted to ensure no contamination has occurred and our field are safe for use. SESL is uniquely placed to help with these assessments and for further information please contact Matt Petersen.