MONTPELIER, Vt. Nasty floodwaters from the remnants of storms Lee and Irene – tainted with sewage and other toxins – threaten public health in parts of the Northeast by direct exposure or the contamination of private water wells.
"We face a public health emergency because sewage treatment plants are underwater and no longer working," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said as flooding from Lee's drenching rains inundated central and eastern Pennsylvania. "Flood water is toxic and polluted. If you don't have to be in it, keep out."
A dozen Vermont towns flooded by Irene were still on boil-water orders 12 days later, though officials reported no waterborne illness. Similar precautions have been taken throughout other storm-damaged states.
In Waterbury, the municipal wastewater plant was overwhelmed by flooding from Irene and raw sewage flowed into the Winooski River. The smell of sewage was still strong Thursday in the mud- and muck-stained driveway where Air Force Master Sgt. Joe Bishop, 35, was home on leave – after a tour in Iraq and three in Afghanistan – trying to salvage what he could from his elderly parents' home.
"I've been drinking bottled water," Bishop said, and cleaning up with jugs of water from a tanker truck positioned down the road by emergency officials. He said he's trying to clean his father's power tools and other items but with limited water, the task has been difficult.
"You can't pressure-wash anything," he said. He had no idea when his parents' water service would be restored.