‘Never seen numbers this large’: Houston floodwater is filled with heavy metals and harmful bacteria

n Saturday, CNN aired a segment about the danger posed by contaminated floodwater in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned is a significant health hazard for residents.

“Countless people have waded through these floodwaters,” said CNN’s senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, “some for hours. Now the question is: What’s in it? Alligators, hordes of fire ants and some things you can’t see.”

A senior scientist from a Houston water testing lab took samples of the water, telling Cohen they expect to find “various bacteria that are sewage-related” like E. coli and fecal strep, harmful chemicals like heavy metals — including arsenic, lead and cadmium — that may have escaped from any of the toxic industrial sites in and around Houston.

A physician told Cohen that in addition to fecal bacteria, the water could be contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus, the bacteria that can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, the so called “flesh-eating” disease.

Anchor Ana Cabrera said at the end of the segment that testing showed “several hundred CFUs or ‘colony-forming units’” of E. coli, “but the EPA standard is zero.” Total coliform, another indicator of the presence of fecal bacteria was in the tens of thousands.



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