The flooding along the Mississippi River is highly destructive and causing economic hardship, but the general media is focusing its reporting on the mix of contaminants, trash and farm runoff polluting land and communities. Warnings from public health officials are the news, and the sludge and trash in backwash areas have been the visual in many reports.
From agriculture’s perspective, the question has arisen about why this year’s floods are seen as worse in polluting than those of every other major flood to ever occur.
In an Associated Press article, the Tennessee Department of Health is quoted as saying, "Flood water picks up numerous contaminants from roads, farms, factories and storage buildings, including sewage and chemicals." That is nothing new, and the clean-up after a flood has always been a big throw out job plus rip out walls and floors to reconstruct homes and buildings.
Testing by ABC News found E. coli and coliform at 2,000 times acceptable limits in samples taken in two places along the river. There were also traces of heavy metals, but no more than normal. The testing did not find any gasoline, oil or chemical toxins.
The Associated Press quoted environmental scientists in Louisiana and Illinois.
"There could be a lot of untreated sewage coming downstream," said Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist and activist in Louisiana. "People need to be aware."
Subra warned that if the Morganza Spillway were opened in Louisiana, it could flood the wetlands in the southern part of the state, creating more of a health issue for people coming back to their homes. Standing water will also breed mosquitoes, the Tennessee Department of Health warned.
Experts expect to see a larger-than-normal "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico this year, as the flooding will bring more farm runoff into the water body. A dead zone is an area formed because algae grow large from the excess nutrients and then die off, taking up the oxygen supply as they decompose. The lack of oxygen doesn’t allow marine animals to survive in a dead zone.
"We know that any time we have a lot of rain up here, that's when we have a large dead zone," said Mark David, a professor of environmental science at the University of Illinois.