Pathogens

Pathogen ContaminationPathogens are disease-producing organisms such as bacteria and viruses. The sources of these organisms are human waste, pasture runoff, and waste products of marsh animals such as nutria and birds.

Physical contact with natural marine pathogens while swimming or eating raw seafood can harm people who are predisposed to liver, blood, stomach, or immune system problems. Eating shellfish contaminated by human fecal pathogens can also cause illness such asgastroenteritis, salmonellosis, and hepatitis A, and, in more severe cases, could cause death for people suffering from certain immune
system disorders.

To reduce the risk of illness associated with consumption of shellfish contaminated by pathogens, state agencies have been forced to close oyster beds where tests have indicated high fecal coliform levels in the water. The 1994 LDEQ Water Quality Inventory shows that fecal coliform is at least a suspected or potential problem in 33 out of 55 assessed water bodies in the Terrebonne basin and in 18 out of 27 in the Barataria basin.

In spite of the development of plans for a parish-wide sewage treatment system in Terrebonne Parish and regional efforts to prevent direct dumping of sewage at camps, fecal coliform counts at four sites in the estuary have not declined in 15 years. It is known that 14 towns in Terrebonne Parish have septic tank problems that are contributing to this persistent problem.

Overall, there are no statistically significant trends of fecal coliform counts over the last 15 years in eight monitoring stations in Barataria-Terrebonne. Only one site in Plaquemine Parish shows a significant decrease in fecal coliform levels for the period 1980-1994.

Probable Causes

  • Publicly owned treatment works
  • Septic tanks
  • Hunting and fishing camps
  • Urban runoff
  • Agricultural runoff
  • Naturally occurring pathogens, particularly in warm water with high salinity
  • Illegal disposal of medical waste

Probable Impacts

  • Food poisoning
  • Closure of oyster beds
  • Loss of revenue and employment
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