New Orleans: what's in the water?

class=img_thumbleft>Bodies, fuel, heavy metals, industrial chemicals, bacteria, gasoline from cars and up to 6,000 gas storage tanks in the city, garbage, sewage.

--list of contaminants from WWL-TV live webcast

Searchers were armed with proof of what many holdouts had long feared: The floodwaters are thick with sewage-related bacteria that are at least 10 times higher than acceptable safety limits. The muck contains E. coli, certain viruses and a type of cholera-like bacteria....

The danger of infection wasn't limited to the New Orleans area. The bacteria is feared to have migrated to crowded shelters outside the state, where many evacuees are staying. Four deaths - one in Texas, three in Mississippi - have been attributed to wound infections, said Tom Skinner, spokesman for the CDC.

--Associated Press

Toxicologists and public health experts warned yesterday that pumping billions of gallons of contaminated water from the streets of New Orleans back into the Gulf of Mexico - the only viable option if the city is ever to return to even a semblance of its former self -would have a crippling effect on marine and animal life, compromise the wetlands that form the first line of resistance to future hurricanes, and carry deleterious consequences for human health throughout the region....

The waters now swilling around the streets and neighbourhoods of New Orleans will probably end up either in the Mississippi River or in Lake Pontchartrain, just to the north of the city, where they are likely to react with the oxygen in the water and deprive all living creatures, starting with the fish, of the means to life.

"We're looking conceivably at zero-dissolved oxygen, which will lead to the death of fish and other organisms," Dr Zeliger said. "If the migratory birds who pass through the area find any fish to eat, they will be contaminated so the birds will start dying in large quantities ... Reptiles and snakes are going to be driven out of their nests and habitats, which has implications for human safety. We're going to see water moccasins [a highly venomous snake], which are nasty critters, and alligators threatening people."

--The Independent (London)

As engineers began pumping out the Big Easy this week, creating small but visible wakes of water behind street signs and tree trunks, the water they're moving carries a volatile mix of everything imaginable - from household paints, deodorants, and old car batteries to railroad tank cars, sewage treatment plants, and landfills. While state officials stop short of calling it a toxic soup, at least so far, federal environmental officials call it catastrophic....

Meanwhile, a warehouse explosion along the river in New Orleans and an oil spill several days after the hurricane passed through have added to the challenge. "Everywhere we look there's a spill," said Mike McDaniel, secretary of Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality, in the state's first major assessment of hurricane Katrina's environmental impact. "There's almost a solid sheen over the area right now."

--Christian Science Monitor

Tests of water covering New Orleans showed excessive levels of E. coli bacteria and lead, federal officials said Wednesday, providing the first confirmation that the floodwaters caused by Hurricane Katrina are posing health risks for emergency response workers and residents who have remained in the city.

While neither substance has been blamed for any deaths, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said state and local officials had reported three deaths in Mississippi and one in Texas from exposure to Vibrio vulnificus, a choleralike bacteria found in saltwater that poses special risks for people with chronic liver problems.

--New York Times

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