Flood waters and sediments can contain microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites as well as chemical contaminants. These microorganisms and chemicals are capable of producing illness or injury. In most cases, because of the large volumes of water involved, if these substances were in the water they would likely be highly diluted and at low concentrations. As was stated repeatedly in numerous Code Red messages to the beach area residents, the Town maintains that there was reason to suspect that the flood water contained some level of contamination both microbial and chemical.
The microbial contamination would be due to two factors; the first being the disturbance of the naturally occurring pathogens present in the soils, sands and marshes in the areas and the second would be due to an intermittent bypass of partially-treated sewage from the treatment plant into the Pine Creek. This bypass would not be considered raw sewage in that it did pass through several steps of the treatment process including UV disinfection but is likely to have introduced some pathogens in to the Pine Creek. Full treatment was not possible since the biological aspect of the treatment process was inactivated by the salt in the seawater that was being taken into the sewage system at that point.
The DPH document at the following link: Post Flooding Infectious Disease answers to the questions regarding illness from microbial contamination. The predominant factor in preventing illness from microbial organisms is to prevent the ingestion of them by following these basic steps:
1.) Grass and soil areas should be avoided until they have dried. Exposure to sunlight and drying are key factors in helping to kill or de-nature any pathogens present on grass and soils. According to DPH, most normal activities can be resumed 2 weeks after a flooding event where there is a suspicion of sewage contamination.
2.) Any outdoor hard surfaces such as playground equipment or other outdoor toys exposed to flood waters should be washed and disinfected
3.) Proper hygiene and personal protection including frequent hand washing and use of items such as gloves, eye protection and masks when cleaning contaminated items.
There have been several days of sunlight and dry weather after the water receded from the flooded area which would contribute to reducing any pathogens; but whether all grass/soil area had time to fully dry is questionable. Wet areas should be avoided till they have dried. The rain and snow that occurred the week after the hurricane and the snow as it melted would have provided some additional reduction as it would have flushed some of the pathogenic organisms from the grasses and surface deeper into the soils. There is likely some increased risk still present until the grass and soil areas have dried but most normal activities can be resumed 2 weeks after the flooding event.
The only chemical contamination that we are aware of at this point is based upon a few reports of a petroleum-like odor or petroleum-like sheen seen on portions of the floodwaters. There is no single-point source known for this at this time but it is likely due to flooding of items such as cars, lawn care equipment, fuel for such equipment stored in garages and sheds or potentially home heating oil tanks. There is also the potential for some contamination from household chemicals that were subjected to flooding.
While petroleum product sheens and odors on water are fairly common in summer months in CT harbors, rivers, lakes and in Long Island Sound due to boating activities, natural processes typically resolve them fairly quickly and no specialized clean-up activity is usually required. To address the concerns regarding any health impact possible from any residual petroleum products in the sediments or soils, two references have been provided to us.
The DPH has developed guidance regarding flooding that may contain sewage and/or oil. This guidance can be found by clicking here: DPH Flooding Oil/Sewage Guidance. While any oily patches or puddles, black residue, or oily smell in the beach areas should reported to the Emergency Response and Spill Prevention Unit at the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) at the number provided in that document; in general the document indicates that both sewage and oil will naturally degrade within a few weeks. After that you can allow children and pets to play outside as they normally do.
In addition, the EPA conducted a soil and sediment study in the New Orleans area after the 2005 hurricanes.
EPA conducted an assessment of the sediments and soils after the 2005 hurricanes in which they collected approximately 1,800 sediment and soil samples in Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard Parishes in four phases. Most of these samples were analyzed for over 200 metals and organic chemicals. The sample results indicate that, in general, the sediments left behind by the flooding from the hurricanes were not expected to cause adverse health impacts to individuals returning to New Orleans. Based upon this study of hurricane sediments and post flooding soils in an urban environment, the absence of any reports of significant petroleum or other releases and the more suburban nature of the area flooded; it is reasonable to conclude that, like the soils and sediments in New Orleans after the 2005 hurricanes, that the soils and sediments if the Fairfield beach area are not likely to cause any adverse health impacts. It is still recommended to use proper personal protection and good hygiene when cleaning any sediment to further reduce any potential risk.
Microbial Contamination of Outdoor Areas:
State of CT: http://www.ct.gov/dph/cwp/view.asp?a=3136&Q=487186&PM=1
Post Flood Solis and Sediments:
NY State Flood Sediments language: http://www.governor.ny.gov/health-tips-after-storm#2 “Flood Sediment on Outdoor Properties - Should I be concerned about flood sediment on my property? Once flood waters recede, deposits of sediment may be left behind on lawns, patios and driveways. Flood waters and sediment can contain microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, and sometimes chemical contaminants. However, because of the large volumes of water that were present, substances that may have been in the water were probably highly diluted and at low concentrations. Don't worry about casual contact with surfaces that were flooded, but when it comes time to clean up with raking, shoveling or otherwise kicking up dust and debris, it is best to take these precautions: Wear rubber boots, waterproof gloves and eye protection. Wear a dust mask (look for one labeled N95 at the hardware store) to help reduce the potential for inhaling dust and contaminants. Use a shovel to remove thick deposits of moist sediment on hard surfaces like driveways and patios. Thin layers of moist sediment or dried sediment can be hosed off to the lawn or gutter. Avoid sweeping dried sediments with a broom or using a leaf blower as this will make sediments airborne, increasing the potential for breathing the dust, getting it into your eyes or spreading it to other surfaces. Clean children's play equipment and toys, and outdoor surfaces that people will directly contact (such as lawn chairs and picnic tables), with detergent and clean water. Rinse thoroughly with clean water.”
New Orleans Sediment and Soil Sampling: http://www.epa.gov/katrina/testresults/sediments/summary.html