The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday strongly advised against human contact with the floodwater in New Orleans, Louisiana, saying preliminary tests show levels of E. coli and lead greatly exceed the agency's safety standards.
"At these levels, human contact with water should be avoided as much as possible," said the agency.
It advised the use of soap and water to clean the exposed areas of body if available. The tests also found higher and unsafe concentration of brain-harming lead in the water, a potential threat to children in particular.
The elevated level of E. coli is apparently associated with raw sewage. The agency required people to report any symptoms from bacterial infection to health professionals.
The most likely symptoms include stomach-ache, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
The first tests were focused on neighborhoods and not in heavily industrialized areas in New Orleans, which is devastated by the hurricane Katrina.
The EPA said additional chemical sampling was also preformed for priority pollutants such as volatile organic compounds, semivolatile organic compounds, total metals, pesticides, herbicides, and polychlorinated biphenyls.