Bacteria, lead levels high in floodwater in New Orleans

Sewage-related bacteria and lead levels were tested high in floodwaters in New Orleans, Louisiana, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Wednesday.

The EPA advised people against contact with the contaminated water. If contact cannot be avoided, it said, soap and water should be used to clean the exposed areas.

Tests results from samples taken over the past two weeks around the city, which was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, showed lead levels from nearly twice to as high as 56 times the EPA's limit for drinking water, while the source of lead pollution remains unclear, said the agency.

Lead is brain-harming and is a health threat particularly to children. Tests found levels of E. coli, a bacillus normally found in the human gastrointestinal tract, up to 109 times the EPA's safe swimming limit and detected high levels of other coliform bacteria that can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and fever.

Tests also detected high concentrations of hexavalent chromium and arsenic in floodwaters. However, the agency said chemicals in the water could only pose a health risk to children if a child drinks a liter of floodwater a day.

It remains unknown when New Orleans would be habitable. The EPA has also cautioned that people trying to return to the city may be also exposed to hazards such as leaking natural gas lines.

Source: Xinhua

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