Harvey's floodwaters highly contaminated with E. coli, other bacterial threats

Posted at 7:19 PM, Sep 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-02 19:19:22-04

SAN ANTONIO, TX (KSAT/KPRC/CNN) - Results from testing of the floodwaters of Houston are shocking, say the environmental scientists who are testing them. Not only is the water contaminated - it is highly contaminated, with numbers that some experts have never seen in their experience.

An E.coli test is an indication of how much fecal contamination and other bacteria is in the water. Three samples were taken from one area of Houston.

The first sample had 8,600 CFUs - colony-forming units. The second one had 3,700 CFUs and the third had 6,300 CFUs. Scientists at A&B Labs, the Houston lab that performed the tests, say that EPA standards for recreational water is zero.There is not supposed to be any E. coli in recreational waters.

Scientists also tested for total coliforms, another indication of fecal bacteria and other kinds of contamination. In the first sample, there were 57,000 CFUs; the second sample had 43,000 CFUs and the third showed 45,000 CFUs. The EPA standard for recreational waters is less than 100.

The lab manager who was testing on-site said these numbers are huge. This is what his lab, a professional water-testing lab, does full-time. He said he and his staff do this day in and day out and they have never seen numbers in water that is publicly accessible.

These scientists are not just concerned about fecal bacteria; they’re also concerned about vibrio vulnificus, the flesh-eating bacteria. They said these numbers show there could be a likelihood that it is also in this water.  

What does this mean for the countless people who have been wading in this water?

If they had a cut in their skin and it was big enough and did not get cleaned out quickly enough, it could cause a serious skin infection that could be life-threatening. That would be true even if the person was healthy to begin with.

Another concern is if the water splashed into someone’s mouth. If a healthy person ingested it, the worst result would be a round of diarrhea. But people who are older, weaker or have a compromised immune system,  it could be much more serious.

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