Jun 29, 2011

Floodway Chemical, Pesticide Contamination Below Levels of Health Concern

Previous results had indicated E. coli bacteria, but now levels are well below official standards

Detailed analysis of the May 24 limited sampling of floodwaters in the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway in southeast Missouri found contamination is at levels typically found in the Mississippi River in nine samples of collected water. The samples are also below levels of health concern for those involved with continuing cleanup activities.

Previous results had indicated the presence of E. coli bacteria, however it was detected well below Missouri’s official standard for fishing, wading and boating activities. EPA crews on May 24 conducted surface water sampling at six locations within the floodway and three outside the floodway to determine if any threats might be present for emergency response workers who could come into contact with the floodwaters.

Levels of metals found in surface waters were consistent with those found in the Mississippi River and were below health-based limits. Of the organic compounds analyzed, only perchlorate and two herbicides were actually detected above the detection limits of the instruments used by the laboratory.

The primary concern regarding activities in receding floodwaters continues to be the potential presence of bacteria. EPA continues to advise citizens to avoid contact with floodwaters, if possible. Harmful bacteria in the water can cause symptoms such as stomachache, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Persons exposed to fecal coliform can become ill if they have an open cut, wound or scrape that comes into contact with contaminated water. Symptoms include fever, redness and swelling at the site of an open wound. If these symptoms occur, a doctor should be consulted.

Normally, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is responsible for water quality testing in the state. However, due to extraordinary circumstances related to responding to the Mississippi River flooding, EPA offered its assistance to the state to conduct this round of limited sampling.