EPA Finds Bacteria in Floodwaters at Birds Point

Release date: 05/26/2011

Contact Information: Chris Whitley, 913-551-7394, whitley.christopher@epa.gov

Environmental News


(Kansas City, Kan., May 26, 2011) – Analysis of this week’s limited sampling of floodwaters in the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway in southeast Missouri has indicated the presence of bacteria in nine samples of collected water, EPA Region 7 announced today.

EPA crews on Tuesday, May 24, conducted surface water sampling at four locations within the floodway to determine if any threats might be present for emergency response workers who could come into contact with the floodwaters.

Results from the sampling show nine samples of receding floodwaters had total coliform levels ranging from 5,475 to 15,531 mpn/100ml (most probable number of colony forming units per 100 milliliters of water). However, analysis also showed E. coli bacteria levels, which are an indicator of fecal coliform bacteria in the floodwaters, ranged from 0 to 38 mpn/100ml, which are well below Missouri’s official standard of 126 mpn/100ml for swimming and 1,134 mpn/100ml for fishing, wading and boating activities.

“Public health and the health of emergency responders is a critical issue in the flood response,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks. “It is very important that the emergency responders know what hazards may be in the floodwater.”

In addition to checking for coliform bacteria, EPA’s surface water samples are also being analyzed for organophosphorus pesticides, triazine herbicides, total metals including aluminum, perchlorate, total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH)-gasoline range organics (GRO), and TPH-diesel range organics. Results of those analyses are pending, and will be made public when complete.

EPA continues to advise citizens to avoid contact with floodwaters, if possible. Harmful bacteria in the water can cause symptoms such as stomach ache, 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 (MDNR) 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.

The U.S. Geological Survey is also conducting water quality sampling within the floodway.

EPA involvement in the floodway began in mid-April when the Agency assisted MDNR and bulk fuel suppliers to contact farmers and agricultural operators within the floodway and remove threatened petroleum tanks and small amounts of hazardous materials, prior to the opening of the floodway by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
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