It's easy to spot the big logs and tree limbs floating down the swollen Mississippi River, but what other junk's been swept into the river because of the flooding, that you can't see? News4 Investigates took a sample of water from the river and sent it to microbiologist Jim O'Donnell at Microbe Inotech laboratories to have it tested. The lab results were nasty. On the positive side, Jim says he was a little surprised that the bacteria levels weren't higher than what the tests showed, but the enormous amount of water is helping to dilute the levels somewhat. And tests did not find salmonella or listeria, but did find e. coli, however not the dangerous strain that was found in spinach last year that made people sick.
Now, the yucky part of the lab results. There were high levels of types of bacteria that like to feast on blood. That means anyone wading through the water who has a cut or a scrape is at risk of walking out of that water with bacteria that can make them really sick, crawling all over that open wound. That's a real risk for anyone who evacuated through the water, worked on sandbag walls or just plays around in the floodwater. And the level of fecal coliforms, the bacteria found in fecal matter, was sky high. That's not a big surprise considering that the sewage treatment plants in Cedar Rapids and a couple of other Iowa towns were flooded at one point and may still be operating at less than 100% of their ability to treat the raw sewage. Plus, sewage from flooded septic tanks and animal droppings have been swept down the river. If floodwater gets into the water table, it could contaminate the wells that people use for their drinking water. And there's a potential that the next crop of vegetables grown on the flooded fields could be contaminated.
St. Louis gets its drinking water from the Mississippi River. So, News4 Investigates contacted Curtis Skouby, acting director of public utilities for the City of St. Louis about the level of contamination in the water, detected by our lab tests. He explained that the treatment process is designed to remove microbes, even at this higher level caused by the flooding. Skouby says St. Louis water, the #1 tasting municipal water in the country, is as safe as it's always been. But anyone living in or near the flooded areas, who use well water, need to have their well tested.