Houston, TX – 3 weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit areas of Texas, E. coli and other contaminants have ended up in homes after sewage treatment plants saw more water than they could handle during the deluge. Once homes flood, they become hospitable environments for bacteria to multiply.
Water in some flooded Houston homes is contaminated with bacteria, lead and other toxins, according to a New York Times report. The paper organized testing in two Houston neighborhoods with experts from Baylor Medical College and Rice University, along with the Houston health department.
One home was found to have 135 times the level of E. coli bacteria that is considered safe.
The contaminants ended up in homes after sewage treatment plants in Houston saw more water than they could handle during Hurricane Harvey.
Houston’s storm drainage and water treatment systems are supposed to be independent of one another, but an unprecedented amount of rainfall brought storm water into treatment plants.
Because those treatment plants were overloaded, engineers had to rush incoming water through, skipping a step in the treatment process. The plants then emptied the partially treated water into Houston’s bayous. Those bayous flooded, letting contaminated water into people’s homes.
According to the CDC, Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) is a large and diverse group of bacteria. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless, others can make you sick. Some kinds of E. coli can cause diarrhea, while others cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia, and other illnesses.
Still other kinds of E. coli are used as markers for water contamination—so you might hear about E. coli being found in drinking water, which are not themselves harmful, but indicates the water is contaminated. It does get a bit confusing—even to microbiologists.
Meantime, At least 13 toxic waste sites in Texas were flooded or damaged by Hurricane Harvey, adding on to the challenges as the area begins clean up efforts following the deadly storm.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced Saturday that it had assessed 41 Superfund sites using aerial images, and determined the ones badly affected by the storm.
The impact of flooding on the sites is unknown. The EPA said its workers have not been able to “safely access the sites” but are ready to do so as soon as the floodwaters recede.
A Superfund site is land that is contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment. The 13 affected sites have industrial waste from petrochemical companies, acid compounds, solvents and pesticides.