Residents in a subdivision of Naperville, Illinois, believe that their recent health complaints, and mold-like staining on their backyard patios and fencing, are being caused by a “toxic mist” spraying off of a fountain in a pond adjacent to their homes. These resident also claim that they have tested the pond’s water themselves, and found excessively high levels of E Coli bacteria. (The subdivision responsible for the pond says they, too, have tested the pond water, but that no excessive E Coli was detected.) 1
State and local governments are saying that they might get involved, to see what’s really going.
I say to state and local government: “What are you waiting for? Get out to this neighborhood, do comprehensive testing, share the results with the people, and do whatever may be necessary to protect them as soon as possible.”
E coli—if indeed there are excessive levels of it in the pond water—is nothing to play games with. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, certain types of E Coli bacteria are pathogenic and cause illness. These bacteria can cause symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. In addition, 5-10% percent of people with an E Coli infection can develop hemolytic uremic syndrome, a severe and potentially life-threatening condition which can lead to kidney failure. 2
Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health say that exposure to black mold can cause several health problems, including: nasal and sinus congestion, chronic coughs, sore throats, skin rashes, eye irritation and blurred vision, and that “After contact with certain molds, individuals with chronic respiratory disease may have difficulty breathing, and people who are immunocompromised may be at increased risk for lung infection.” 3
An important clue which tells us that government should get to work quickly here is that the health effects caused by exposure to E coli and black mold are very similar, if not identical, to the health problems experienced by the Rachlitz and Stearns/Sutton families whose homes back up to the pond. I’ve read nothing, heard nothing, and can think of nothing, that suggests that these families’ health problems, and their possible connection to the “toxic mist”, should not be taken seriously.
So, government should immediately test not only the pond water for E coli and other toxins, but should also test the dark staining on the residents’ patios, concrete, fencing, etc., to see if it matches what is in the pond. The laboratory reports which show the results of these tests should be expedited (rather than delayed for the customary 2-4 weeks of processing), and shared right away with the residents, along with government’s conclusions about what is in the pond and the residents’ yards. That’s not to say that government’s conclusions are necessarily right—government, in my experience, has a reflexive tendency to downplay environmental problems, especially environmental problems that it should have found and fixed long ago. But government’s conclusions are a useful place to start.
Then, if these test results show a real problem, particularly one that may be threatening human health, government can enforce a sensible solution—such as eliminate the pond’s fountains—or the people most unfortunately impacted will be armed with information necessary to help themselves.
But let’s stop all the guessing and foot-dragging. People are getting sick. Let’s find out right away if the “mist” is what’s causing it.