Dangerous E. coli has been found in soil samples from the flood-ravaged community of High River, Alta., according to test results conducted for CBC News.
- High River ponds contain E. coli months after flooding
- Alberta Flood: 100 Days Later (in-depth coverage, interactive timeline, before and after photos)
CBC hired the independent company Benchmark Labs to examine the soil and water in the community south of Calgary that was hard hit by flooding in June.
Soil samples were collected from several parts of town. Of the six sites chosen in residential neighbourhoods — many taken in backyards — two came back positive for the dangerous E. coli 0.157 strain.
"Our parents don't let us touch the backyard because it's not safe," said nine-year-old McKenna Donald as she rode her scooter on the road near her house.
Playing on the street these days is safer than her own backyard — especially since the flood.
"It's not as safe as when I first moved here, because the water carried lots of chemicals," she said. "Like it's from the river and sewage and stuff like that."
And her family has reason to worry.
"From the levels that they found, it's not a healthy situation," said Mike Warren from Mending Homes, who took samples to be processed and analyzed at Benchmark Labs.
Jill Norrie is a homeowner whose property is located near the contaminated soil.
"I'm extremely concerned given that we spend so much time in here, and I don't know what I would have to do and how much it's going to cost to fix that problem," she said.
44 Sunrise Close (E. coli 0.157 present)
Hampton Hills dirt pile (E. coli 0.157 present)
609 Riverside Boulevard
134 Hampton Common
36 Sunrise Close
40 Sunrise Close
Norrie says she was so worried what the floodwaters did to the inside of her home, that she never considered the impact to her lawn.
There is some good news for residents in the hard-hit community of Hampton Hills. Tests conducted both indoors and outdoors show good levels of air quality.
But the tests completed by Benchmark Labs also show E. coli 0.157 has been found in two ponds in High River, and three other bodies of water in the town exceeded provincial recreational guidelines for total coliform bacteria.
Chris Bolton, the head of Benchmark Labs, says there is concern for possible E. coli outbreak. He warns against children and pets playing near the contaminated sites.
The province says while the tests identify a threat of E. coli in the standing water ponds, they are not a human drinking water source. Public health officials have tested High River’s drinking water extensively since the flood and say it remains safe.
“The fact that there still is E. coli in the floodwater around High River is not unexpected. It’s also very common to have E. coli 0157 wherever there are dogs, cats, wildlife or runoff from livestock operations,” said Dr. James Talbot, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.
“We continually track E.coli 0157 infections rates in this province. We did so before the flood, during the flood and after the flood, and there have been no cases in High River this year."