Post-Harvey floodwaters show dangerous levels of contaminants, test finds

Test: E. coli levels were 125 times higher than considered safe for swimming

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CYPRESS, Texas – A test conducted at Texas A&M University found that floodwater samples from the Houston area showed E. coli levels that were 125 times higher than is considered safe for swimming.

Dr. Terry Gentry, an associate professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University, concluded that walking through the floodwaters could lead to infections or other problems.

Gentry said the tested water also proved to be 15 times higher than acceptable levels for wading.

"We saw elevated levels of E. coli," Gentry said. "And this indicates the very likely presence of pathogenic bacteria, viruses and other types of organisms that could cause disease in some individuals."

The samples, which were collected earlier this week in Cypress, were brought to a laboratory in College Station for testing. TAMU said it was one of a few water quality labs open in the area after the storm.

"Researchers and staff from Texas A&M and other entities within the Texas A&M University System have stepped up to make sure Texans know about health concerns in the wake of Hurricane Harvey," Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said. "We will continue to get Texans the information they need to keep themselves and their families as safe as possible."

The results from the water tested in College Station were communicated to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to assist the agency in its effort to assess the impacts of Hurricane Harvey.

University officials said another team from the Texas A&M University System will begin taking water samples from the affected coastal areas next week for a further assessment of the storm's effects on the environment.

The Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research, or TIAER, at Tarleton State University in Stephenville will monitor the quality of waters and habitats in order to help ensure public safety and health, TIAER's executive director, Dr. Quenton Dokken, said. The TIAER team will measure hydrocarbon and bacterial contamination levels to assess overall water quality in flooded south Texas communities.

"As floodwaters wash down streets, through garages and kitchens, across thousands of acres of farmland and through industrial areas, an A-to-Z list of toxic chemicals is flushed into the environment," he said. "In addition, tons of manure and raw sewage are incorporated into this rancid brew."

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