Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – September 16th, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

September 16, 2005
EPA Releases Preliminary New Orleans Water Testing Results

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted its initial round of testing on the floodwaters that have inundated the streets of New Orleans. The preliminary EPA report reveals abnormally high concentrations of E. coli and coliform bacteria in the water, prompting federal officials to warn against skin contact with the water. Water testing is also taking place in hurricane-ravaged areas of Mississippi and Alabama.

E. coli and coliform are commonly found in the feces of humans and other warm-blooded animals. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, the high levels found in New Orleans indicate the potential presence of pathogens and therefore a risk of illness or infection. EPA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not tested for toxic strains such as E. coli 0157, or for other pathogens such as Vibrio cholera, Shigella, or Salmonella. The agencies believe that identifying the presence of fecally contaminated water will give a broader risk perspective than detecting specific pathogens.

Initial water testing was performed for over one hundred priority pollutants, including volatile organic compounds, semivolatile organic compounds, total metals, pesticides, herbicides, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The results in New Orleans showed concentrations of lead, hexavalent chromium and arsenic, which exceed EPA drinking water standards.

Based on the sampling, EPA advised emergency responders and the public to avoid direct contact with the rancid standing water and to use soap and water to clean exposed areas if available.

To read the complete EPA tests results, please go to:
Katrina Impacts Area Water Treatment Plants

More than 500 wastewater treatment plants in the Gulf Coast region battered by Hurricane Katrina have been rendered inoperable, damaged or at reduced service, including 25 large and 35 intermediate-sized facilities, according to federal and local officials. A few key water plants are reported to be back on line. Many others, however, will not go back into operation until parishes and local municipalities get electrical services back on-line.

New Orleans’ major waste water treatment plant, a 220-mgd (million gallons per day) filtration facility that taps the Mississippi River, was completely flooded and inoperable for several days in the aftermath of Katrina. This week it was finally “pressured up” enough to provide non-potable water to be used initially for fire service only, local officials said. In addition, the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (NOSWB) reported that a 40-mgd filter plant that serves an un-flooded area south and east of the Mississippi River remained in operation since Katrina roared through the region.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reported that 600 public works personnel are being dispatched to the city to focus on draining the floodwaters, repairing the water system and getting the wastewater treatment system operating again. The EPA is also continuing its assessment of damage to local drinking systems and providing technical assistance to help restore service in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

To read more about FEMA efforts, please go to:
CDC Focuses on Post-Katrina Illness Outbreaks

According to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) advisory, crowded evacuation centers housing thousands of individuals removed from the hurricane-torn areas of the U.S. Gulf Coast are vulnerable to outbreaks of gastrointestinal illness. A variety of bacteria, parasites and viruses, including noroviruses, have been identified as potential sources of illnesses in the temporary living facilities.

Currently, the CDC has confirmed fifteen cases of V. vulnificus infection, three of which were fatal. V. vulnificus, a bacterium related to the germ that spreads cholera, is normally present in Gulf Coast waters and is contracted by eating tainted seafood. Primarily considered to be a threat to people with weakened immune systems or liver dysfunction, V. vunificus can also cause serious infections, including wound infections and blood poisoning (septicemia).

The fifteen reported cases did not occur in New Orleans. They occurred in areas of the Gulf Coast where the water has greater salinity.

An additional post-Katrina concern is gastrointestinal illnesses from direct contact with floodwaters. Sewage contamination as the result of overwhelmed or disabled wastewater treatment facilities introduced parasites into the water the public was exposed to, increasing the likelihood that large scale spread of waterborne illness, including bouts of diarrhea and dehydration, may confront Gulf Coast communities.

Public health officials also say that common infectious topical disease problems, including skin and soft-tissue infections from exposed cuts, abrasions and wounds are likely to be in the coming weeks. The primary culprits will be Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria.

To read more about efforts by CDC, please go to:

FDA Issues Food Safety Alert in Katrina Aftermath

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a food safety alert and guidelines to advise Gulf Coast-based food manufacturing facilities, food warehouses and food transporters on the dangers that exist to their products and supply in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The FDA warned the industry that crops and other processed food and food products that were completely submerged in floodwater may have been exposed to sewage, chemicals, heavy metals, pathogenic microorganisms or other contaminants. They also advised that mold and toxins might develop in those crops and food products as a result of exposure to prolonged exposure to the contaminated standing water.

As a result, the FDA has determined that both water-exposed foodstuffs exposed and inadequately refrigerated perishable foods should not enter the human food supply or be used in animal feed. FDA has posted basic guidelines on the handling of the following categories of food products that should be destroyed:

* Crops, fresh fruits and vegetables
* Food requiring refrigeration and freezing
* Food in screw-top and crimped-cap
* Food packed in plastic, paper, cardboard and cloth

To read additional Katrina-related information from the FDA, please go to:

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