Taking Action: How much bacteria swims in flooded areas of Hampton Roads?

Posted at 6:17 PM, Sep 09, 2014
and last updated 2014-09-10 20:16:00-04

You might think twice about trekking through or swimming in flooded waters around Hampton Roads. NewsChannel 3 found high levels of bacteria in three Hampton Roads cities flooded by heavy rain this week.

Oftentimes it’s a risk some are willing to take in desperate situations.

Just ask Regina Colbert. Her daughter and granddaughter had to make it through water up to their knees after their City Line apartment flooded out overnight.

"She carried my granddaughter on her back so she had to walk through that you know, and stuff is in that creek so it's pretty nasty," Colbert said.

But, just how nasty is it?

NewsChannel 3 took action to find out with help from Universal Laboratories in Hampton.

"It's all about bacteria levels. Any bacteria could potentially make you sick so if you have an open wound you might end up with an extra infection that you might not have gotten," explained Quality Director, Stacie Splinter.

NewsChannel 3’s Jackie Morlock geared up with boots and latex gloves and made her way through flooded areas collecting samples.

She took samples from three areas: City Line apartments in Newport News, Joynes Road at Big Bethel in Hampton and 4th View Street at West Ocean View Avenue in Norfolk.

One of the samples looked pretty clear but even Splinter looked a bit grossed out by the one taken in Norfolk.

Splinter says they'll test the samples for E Coli and Total Coliform, which is a general term for a group of different bacteria.

How much bacteria did we find?

After 24 hours, the test results revealed that all three samples were equally bad. All of them contained bacteria levels that were 10 times higher than the State Water Quality Standards that would normally close a local beach. 

Splinter says there are lots of reasons why the bacteria levels could be high and those numbers aren't surprising at all.

"Any animal that's been out there; anything that's been on the bottom of your shoes. I mean, that's all going to be picked up in this flood water and rushed together," she says.

Add sewage backup to the list of things floating around and if that isn't enough to make you queasy, considering what that water can do to an open wound.

"If it's going to give you a stomach virus, it's going to, you know, if you have an open wound, bacteria is just going to get in there and grow. It could get more infected than what would naturally happen," she says.