Floodwaters from multiple locations across the New Orleans area were sampled by EPA and analyzed for chemicals and bacteria this week, according to an agency press release. Preliminary information indicates that bacteria counts for E. coli in sampled areas greatly exceed EPA's recommended levels for contact. At these levels, human contact with water should be avoided, reports EPA.

Initial results are the beginning of extensive sampling efforts and do not represent the condition of all floodwaters throughout the area, according to EPA.

Additional chemical sampling was performed for priority pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semivolatile organic compounds (SVOCs), total metals, pesticides, herbicides, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Results indicated:

  • Lead concentrations in water exceeded drinking water action levels. These levels are a concern if a child ingests large amounts of floodwater.

  • For the additional chemicals tested, EPA has yet to detect contaminant levels that would pose human health risks. Due to the priority of the search and rescue mission, EPA testing has focused on neighborhoods and not in heavily industrialized areas.

    Given these results, emergency response personnel and the public should avoid direct contact with standing water when possible, urges EPA. In the event contact occurs, EPA and CDC strongly advise the use of soap and water to clean exposed areas if available.

    Floodwater should obviously not be swallowed and all mouth contact should be avoided. People should immediately report any symptoms to health professionals. The most likely symptoms are stomachache, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

    Additional information regarding health and safety issues for both the public and emergency responders can be found on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) web site — http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/hurricanes/index.asp — and OSHA's web site — http://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/hurricaneRecovery.html.

    For additional EPA information, go to: http://www.epa.gov/katrina.