US Midwest floods raise concerns about water quality

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Mays Island, Iowa, the flood waters have covered bridges and reached the second floor of buildings.
Image: Interiority.

In the Midwestern United States, floodwaters contaminated with a toxic brew containing such ingredients as sewage, farm runoff, and petroleum are raising concerns over the availability of clean drinking water.

Flooding has been reported in the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas and Indiana, with three deaths reported each in Iowa and Indiana, prompting comparisons to similar floods in 1993 that caused US$21 billion in damages. The flooding in Iowa has resulted in damage to buildings, infrastructure and farms, and governor Chet Culver's office has estimated that 36,000 people have been made homeless.

Residents of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who had begun returning to their homes to inspect damage and salvage belongings, wade through ankle-deep water that has picked up refuse from farms, sewage, and other noxious chemicals. LeRoy Rippert, chairman of emergency management and homeland security in Des Moines County, was concerned for residents, saying "It is very, very wise to stay out of it. It's as dangerous as anything". Experts in biology and medicine also raised concerns over the floodwater contaminating rural wells and providing breeding grounds for mosquitos. "For rural folks, it's going to be hard to know if their water's safe or not," said G. Richard Olds, chairman of the Medical College of Wisconsin. Ken Sharp, environmental health director for the Iowa Department of Public Health, acknowledged the risks of the contaminated water, but suggested that the sheer volume of water may help to dilute the pollution.

June has seen a number of disasters hit the Midwest, including a tornado that killed four Boy Scouts last week.