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News Brief: Gulf Water Sampling Results

Release Date: 1/6/2006
Contact Information: For more information contact the Office of External Affairs at (214) 665-2200.

Contact:  Eryn Witcher, 202-564-4355 /

     Test results from Gulf of Mexico sampling indicate that at most, relatively low levels of fecal contamination were present after the hurricane.  The Clostridium perfringens tests show that the levels were low to undetectable.  Previously released enterococcus tests show that at the time of sampling the water was appropriate for any kind of recreational use--including swimming.  Water samples were collected by the OSV Bold in the Gulf from Sept. 27 through Oct. 2, 2005 at monitoring stations in the river channels and nearshore waters surrounding the Mississippi Delta.  The agency monitored 20 areas to determine whether fecal pollution from flooded communities had spread into these waters.

     Clostridium perfringens is a bacterium, found in the intestinal tract of both humans and animals.  It enters the environment through feces.  There are no EPA health-based ambient water quality criteria for C. perfringens.  Therefore, there is no approved analytical method for assessing water quality using this bacterium.  However, some scientists recommend using C. perfringens spores as a tracer of fecal pollution because its presence is a good indicator of recent or past fecal contamination in water and spores survive well beyond the typical life-span of other fecal bacteria.  

     EPA previously released results for enterococcus, which was detected at four of 20 stations from 10 to 53.1 bacteria colonies per 100 milliliters.  These results indicate that the water is suitable for any kind of recreational use.  This level is below the most conservative marine water criteria of 104 bacteria per 100 milliliters.

     It is difficult, due to absence of previously analyzed data, to determine the source of the C. perfringens and enterococci.  They could have been present prior to the hurricane.  Bacteria were not routinely analyzed prior to Hurricane Katrina.

     While all of these results are encouraging for recreational uses, this data should not be used to assess the safety of consuming raw or undercooked molluscan shellfish--such as oysters--because accidental ingestion of water presents different risks than eating raw or undercooked shellfish.

     The data being released today is available at: 
and information about EPA's survey vessel the Bold is available at: