Special report: What's in your Flood water? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Special report: What's in your Flood water?

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - Fifteen inches of rain in southwest Georgia between March 28th and April 13th closed roads and made homes inaccessible.

Beyond the immediate obvious dangers of flooding, there are hidden dangers that can make you quite ill. We put the water standing around homes to the test. The results weren't good.

When heavy rains fell in Albany, the water from Pineywood Creek combined with a local pond flooding the Radial subdivision and Betty Butler's home.

 "It's dirty water, with minnow fish in the storage room and carport," said Betty Butler.

That's what Betty can see. She's also worried about what she can't see. "They say it carries bacteria and germs and stuff and I have two little kids."

So what is lurking in south Georgia's flood waters. Using sterile bottles, we sampled three communities. The first, taken from the waters running into Betty's home on Plumbcrest Drive in Dougherty County, the second from a flooded area near several homes along Old Georgia Three in Mitchell County, and our final sample from the Flint River in Chaney Griffin Park in Bainbridge, where the river overflowed its banks flooding the park and many homes.

We took our samples to Ackuritlabs in Tallahassee to see what might be in those flood waters. We'll be testing for three things, nitrates, E-coli and whether there's fecal coliform in the water.

"We filter it though the apparatus there and it catches the bacteria," said Amanda, an Ackuritlabs, Inc. Microbiologist.

We'll run several different dilutions of our three samples so no matter what, we'll get a good sample with colonies that can be easily counted.

"The whole point is to make the bacteria if there, as happy as possible so they will grow," said Amanda.

24 hours later it was clear, all the water around the homes in Albany, Mitchell County, and in Bainbridge contained fecal coliform. That's feces from mammals or birds. The Flint River showed the highest levels. Levels Oasis designs says can be found in untreated water in a third world country.

"This is the final result for the Flint River sample 130 fecal coliform colonies per 100 milliliters," said Amanda.

The levels were lower for the other two samples, but what does that mean? Environmentalists say no matter the amount, any colonies are a concern because water ingested will make you sick and it could produce an infection in a cut or scrape.

"Any level of fecal coliform is cause for concern," said Environmental Health Director Jim Pericaud.

"If you were wading around or working on something and you were in water that has a high fecal coliform count then you would splash it in your mouth or get it on your hands or not clean then you would be at much higher risk to getting a diarrhea disease," said Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Craig Smith.

If fecal coliform's present experts say it's usually not alone and that likely means other bacteria could also be in the water.

"Norovirus, Hepatitis, Schigalosis, Salmonella, there's a variety of different types of intestinal organisms that are not only in the intestinal tract of humans but also the intestinal track of agricultural animals," said Pericaud.

The lab also ran a test for E-coli. Our plates are streaked and the samples put in a test tube.

"The point of this test is to see if gas is produced or not if the bacteria that we're looking for with this specific test is present," said Amanda.

In our case all three samples glowed positive like this control sample, meaning E-coli was also present in the water. That could mean other diseases like cholera dysentery, or viruses that cause polio could also be there making you sick. Our last test checked for nitrates. In this case the Flint River sample came back at four times the acceptable level for nitrates, but experts weren't surprised.

 "It's not surprising that the further south you go where they collect more water the counts would be higher than further north where it hasn't had quite as much flooding," Dr. Smith said.

"You would expect to find high fecal coliform and nitrates. You've got runoff from agricultural areas, fertilizers, pesticides, animal waste that are all going into the river," said Pericaud.

And into people's homes. Experts say there's a lesson to be learned from our results.

"It's a good lesson because you don't want to have flooding, then have diarrhea problems," Dr. Smith said.

They're also a little shocked more people haven't requested to have their wells tested, because what we found on the surface could certainly invade south Georgia wells and the health department says they have found some contamination in the few that have been tested.

"If anything dramatic occurs to your well like a flood you should have it tested," said Pericaud.

It's also why they say anyone cleaning up the waters should wear protective gear, boots and gloves. Hard surfaces can be cleaned, but soft surfaces should be thrown out.

"If it's an absorbent material like carpeting or furniture, you cannot adequately sanitize those types of surfaces," said Pericaud.

And kids should be kept out of waters like these, so the water isn't ingested and they don't risk getting sick from what can certainly be considered contaminated water.

The Heath Department's Environmental Health Division will still check wells if residents are concerned. They say you should be concerned if ground water collected above the well.

For  more information, call the South Georgia Public Health District at 229-430-4599.

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