Flooded Colorado’s worries turn to chemical contamination and disease

New dangers may be posed by fracking chemicals and West Nile virus

Topics: West Nile, fracking, Colorado floods, public health, ,

The rains may have stopped, by Colorado’s problems are far from over.

The most immediate danger posed by the state’s record-breaking floodwaters are the closed roads and bridges that continue to leave residents stranded and entire towns isolated. But as rescue workers continue to look for survivors — at least 1,000 of whom remain in Larimer country alone — and others begin the long process of rebuilding, some are raising new concerns about conditions in the 17 flooded counties.

The Colorado Department of Public Health is warning residents to stay away from floodwaters, which may contain raw sewage. In several communities, they recommend boiling water.

Then there are the mosquitos that standing water tends to attract. Temperatures in Colorado are rising to the mid 70s and low 80s — conditions that can make the pests’ eggs capable of maturing to adulthood in under a week. As such, local newspapers are urging residents to be on alert for West Nile virus.

Meanwhile, the state’s enormous oil and gas infrastructure has been almost entirely submerged in places. Some residents believe — and regulators agree — that the flooded sites could pose a contamination risk. “You have 100, if not thousands, of wells underwater right now and we have no idea what those wells are leaking,” said Cliff Willmeng, the spokesman for a local anti-fracking group. “It’s very clear they are leaking into the floodwaters though.” Photos of overturned gas tanks he posted on Facebook are disquieting, to say the least:



According to The Huffington Post:

The oil and gas industry has said that fracking shouldn’t be a concern with regards to the flooding. “None [of the fracking sites] have been left open during the flood and we don’t have any major issues going on,” Colorado Oil and Gas Association President and CEO Tisha Schuller told 9News. “There were no fracking sites affected by the flood.”

But with at least one pipeline confirmed to be broken and leaking, the exact extent of the damage to the fracking sites and the amount of possible leaked oil or waste material is still unknown. Mike King, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources told The Denver Post that the “the scale is unprecedented and that authorities “will have to deal with environmental contamination from whatever source.”

Willmeng added, “Now we have to discuss what type of exposure the human population is going to have to suffer through.”

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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