"We're Just Sitting Ducks": Recurrent Household Flooding as An Underreported Environmental Health Threat in Detroit's Changing Climate

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Dec 20;16(1):6. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16010006.


Recurrent inland urban flooding is an understudied phenomenon that warrants greater attention, particularly in post-industrial cities where aging infrastructure, disinvestment, and climate change threaten public health. We conducted semi-structured interviews in 2017⁻2018 with 18 Detroit residents experiencing recurrent household flooding. We used standard qualitative coding analysis to generate 30 theoretically- and in vivo- derived themes related to flood experience, socioeconomic and health factors, and household, community, and policy interventions for reducing environmental exposures before, during, and after flood events. Snowball sampling yielded interviewees across both high- and low-risk areas for flood events, indicating vulnerability may be widespread and undocumented in formal ways. Residents described exposure to diverse risk factors for chronic and infectious diseases, particularly for seniors and young children, and emphasized stressors associated with repeated economic loss and uncertainty. Opinions varied on the adequacy, responsibility, and equity of local and federal relief funding and programs. We expand knowledge of flood-related vulnerability, offer innovative suggestions for risk communication based on residents' experiences, and recommend additional research for documenting patterns of recurrent flooding and response, even for precipitation events that are not characterized as extreme or disaster-level in the media or by agencies. These findings should guide local public health, emergency preparedness, sustainability, water and sewage, and community leaders in post-industrial cities.

Keywords: climate change; disinvestment; flooding; infrastructure; risk communication; vulnerability; water.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Cities
  • Climate Change
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Floods*
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Public Health
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Uncertainty
  • Urban Population*
  • Young Adult