Flood waters fill up our streams and rivers, and it can quickly lead to contamination. While you may be tempted to cool off in a local stream or creek, health officials say you might want to think twice before taking a dip.
Springfield-Greene County Public Health administrators say their biggest concern is E. coli. During the summer, workers test five waterways around Springfield on a weekly basis, and you can find the results on their website.
“We’re going to see really high levels of E. coli after rains,” says Springfield Greene County Public Information Administrator Kathryn Wall, “It’s been pretty high, consistently, this year. Actually last week was fairly normal. We didn’t have any dangerous levels. But we expect those will likely be higher again because of those rains we had yesterday.”
Last week, the James River jumped its banks southwest of Springfield yet again, flooding parts of Greene County with brown, murky water. But even if the water doesn’t look dirty, it could still be contaminated with E. coli that can make you sick.
“It exists in your gut, and in most cases it’s a completely harmless thing. But there are strains of E. coli that cause illness in humans, and in some cases, can be deadly,” says Wall, “The most common thing for an E. coli sickness is going to be diarrhea. There’s other stomach and intestinal issues as well.”
Wall says it’s relatively easy to get sick if E. coli gets into your system. If you get the bacteria on your hands, and use your hands to eat something, you could end up getting infected. It can also get into your body through an open wound, even something as small as a hangnail.
Scientists at Springfield’s Environmental Resource Center also test for water pollution.
“In the city, our common sources of pollution are the heavy metals, sediment, nutrients,” says Environmental Biologist Sarah Davis. She says severe storms and flooding bring those materials into our streams, and eventually the rivers.
“Anything that hits the surface of our streets goes directly into the inlets, into the ditches, and straight into the nearest stream. A lot of people think it goes to a treatment plant and gets processed, but it actually doesn’t,” says Davis.
Flood waters are also a breeding ground for bugs, in particular, mosquitoes. While the bugs are known to carry blood-borne illnesses, chances are their bites won’t make you sick. However, they will certainly make you itch.