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Exploring the health danger of flood water

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – Merciless Mother Nature. She’s flooded the region with water and emotions twice in two years.

“It’s draining. It’s emotionally draining,” said a Eureka flood victim.

“Emotional rollercoaster for my wife and I; our family and our friends," said another Eureka flood victim

For flood victims, it's a wet, wild ride full of anticipation, devastation, and consternation.

"I'm trying to save what I’ve worked my whole life for, my house.”

For many, the 2017 flood is another test of their spirit. For the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District, it's another test of the water. They test for things you’ve heard of, like E. coli, and things you likely haven’t heard of: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene.

MSD’s Jay Hoskins and Kirk Lambrecht said this dirty job helps provide a clean course of action.

“The real concern from a public health standpoint are the pathogens and viruses that are present in the flood waters,” Hoskins said.

Our Fox 2 News crew met Hoskins and Lambrecht on an outer road in Valley Park, parallel to Interstate 44, just east of Route 141. Over the period of a half-hour, our crew watched as they gathered five different flood water samples.

“During a flood, we normally see fecal matter levels increase substantially. Obviously, sewer plants and overflowing sewer plants are one source of that. Agricultural waste, pet waste, animal paste, leaking septic tanks, failing septic tanks," Hoskins said.

Sediment levels rise in flood water and fecal matter attaches to sediment. The result is an elevated level of E. coli bacteria. With samples secured, our crew followed the workers to MSD’s Bissell Point Wastewater Treatment Plant.

In a matter of minutes, testing begins. The results came in 24 hours later, which were then shared them with Dr. Faisal Khan, director of the St. Louis County Health Department.

“The bacterial coliform results are high,” said Dr. Khan.

But for flood water, Dr. Khan said none of findings are unusually high. His analysis comes with a warning.

“People tend to disregard the risks posed by flood water simply because they can’t see the danger. If it comes into touch with your mucous membranes, eyes, etc., it can cause irritations. If you ingest it, it can cause nasty diarrhea diseases and worse. If your pets are allowed to play in it and swim in it, they may become sick as well. If you’re involved in cleanup efforts, make sure you’re wearing protective equipment like gloves, goggles, etc, even a mask,” Khan said.

Dr. Khan argues what floods leave behind is often just as dangerous as what is in the water.

“You will see mosquito breeding grounds begin to take shape in puddles of water and debris that captures water,” Khan said.

It’s important to note that MSD does this type of water testing on a daily basis at hundreds of locations around the area regardless of flooding. MSD said its water treatment process removes the majority of the pollutants found in wastewater.