- six Coast locations last week show surprisingly low levels of harmful bacteria in the waters
- did not test for industrial chemical contaminants
- not show the effects on water quality from the millions of cubic yards of debris that washed into Mississippi Sound and surrounding waters when Katrina's storm surge receded.
- limits for a single measurement of enterococci are 104 bacterial colonies for every 100 milliliters of water.
MIKE KELLER, Sun Herald, Sep 18, 2005
SOUTH MISSISSIPPI - Water samples taken by the Sun Herald at six Coast locations last week show surprisingly low levels of harmful bacteria in the waters around Harrison and Jackson counties.
"I would have expected these numbers to be much higher under the circumstances," said Henry Folmar, lab director for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Pollution Control. "I'm really pleasantly surprised."
The samples were taken to show a snapshot of the health of coastal waters after Hurricane Katrina struck last month. The results cannot be viewed as a comprehensive picture of storm-related environmental problems.
In addition, the analysis only tested for possible sewage in the water; it did not test for industrial chemical contaminants.
It also would not show the effects on water quality from the millions of cubic yards of debris that washed into Mississippi Sound and surrounding waters when Katrina's storm surge receded.
The samples were analyzed by Envirochem of Mobile, Ala., an analytical laboratory certified by the states of Alabama and Mississippi to conduct such analyses. The lab looked for colonies of enterococci bacteria, a pathogenic bacteria that indicates sewage pollution in fresh and salt water.
Mississippi's Department of Environmental Quality normally monitors beaches and waterways for enterococci bacteria, though those efforts have not resumed since the storm. Folmar said DEQ and the U.S. Geological Survey will begin water testing later this week when a USGS mobile lab arrives in the area.
Government limits for a single measurement of enterococci are 104 bacterial colonies for every 100 milliliters of water. When that threshold is exceeded, the government shuts down beaches, because human contact with the water could cause serious illness.
The six samples were taken from both inland and coastal surface waters. The sites were selected to get an indication of any potential dangers to residents. From west to east, samples were taken from: Saint Louis Bay, at the northern tip of Pass Christian; inside Gulfport harbor, just south of the Copa Casino; Biloxi beach, at U.S. 90 and DeBuys Road; Biloxi Bay, north of Bayview Avenue and the state office building; the Escatawpa River in Jackson County, under Highway 63; and the west bank of Bayou Casotte, north of Halter Marine and across from Mississippi Phosphates.
Each site had its own peculiar rancid smell. One place smelled like sewage, while another smelled like chemicals and still another smelled like a combination of the two.
The two samples taken in Saint Louis Bay and Biloxi beach yielded results of 136 and 400 colonies respectively.
The beach sample was almost four times greater than DEQ's limit and the Saint Louis Bay number would have caused authorities to shut down the beach and issue warnings to avoid contact with the water.
In Gulfport harbor 60 colonies showed up and in the Back Bay there were 46 colonies. There were 40 colonies in Jackson County's Escatawpa River sample; Bayou Casotte yielded only six colonies. Both Jackson County sites were located in sparsely populated industrial areas, possibly accounting for the low results.
According to Folmar, the amount of harmful bacteria found on any one day can be very different from those found on another. Southern Mississippi has been fortunate with weeks of full sun after Katrina, which served to evaporate standing water from the land. The next time the area gets a heavy rain, much of the organic matter that dried up will wash into surrounding waterways.
Though some bacteria levels measured in the water samples were high, they were nowhere close to what they could be, Folmar said.
Recent EPA water tests in New Orleans showed in some samples over 13,000 colonies of coliform bacteria, another indicator of sewage in the water.
"We've got water-quality problems here on the Coast, but I don't believe it's anywhere near the magnitude they're seeing in New Orleans," Folmar said.