U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- Floodwaters in New Orleans contain bacteria
associated with sewage that are at least 10 times higher than
acceptable safety levels, making direct contact by rescue workers and
remaining residents dangerous, the first government tests confirmed.
"Human contact with the flood water should be avoided as much as
possible," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen
Also found in the first round of testing were elevated lead
levels, a risk if people, particularly children, were to drink the
Residents have been told since Hurricane Katrina to avoid drinking
But EPA's first tests &emdash; which tracked levels of E. coli and
other coliform bacteria that are a marker for sewage contamination
&emdash; emphasize a risk from skin contact as well. The bacteria can
cause infections if people have cuts or other open wounds, or if the
water is splashed into their mouths, noses or eyes.
The EPA didn't test how much sewage was in the water, but quit
when analyses hit the 10-fold mark.
The first round of tests searched for more than 100 chemicals and
other pollutants, but only coliform and lead so far exceeded EPA
safety levels, the agency said.
But this was just a first test, of water in some residential
neighborhoods, not industrial areas &emdash; and didn't include tests
for petroleum products because the concentration of oil in the water
is obvious, Johnson said.
"We don't know what else is contained in that water," he stressed,
saying that daily samples from different parts of the city were being
taken &emdash; and that chemicals such as asbestos are likely to be
in debris from older homes and businesses.
The health hazards from this water make it imperative that
remaining residents comply with evacuation orders, said Dr. Julie
Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and
"If you haven't left the city yet, you must do so," she said.
Symptoms of E. coli ingestion are vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain
and fever; anyone with those symptoms, or who has open wounds exposed
to the dirty water, should seek medical attention.
Federal health officials stressed that rescue workers need to wear
protective clothing and gloves before entering flooded areas, and
that anyone who comes into contact with the contaminated water should
be careful not to splash it into their faces &emdash; and to find
clean water and soap to wash exposed skin, especially hands, as soon
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