Irene floods bringing toxic sludge to NJ homes

Paterson, N.J. - Flood waters from Irene carry multiple risks.

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller that the Passaic River in New Jersey is rushing fast and deep. It's washed up all kinds of debris, but it's what you cannot see that has officials worried.

The flood water that's pushed into this New Jersey neighborhood is a witch's brew of sewage -- industrial chemicals and fertilizer that will leave behind a toxic muck on streets and in basements.

Paterson Mayor Jeffrey Jones says that he's not positive what's in the water because no testing has been done yet, but "I can tell you obviously feces, other forms of sewage, debris from wherever, is now in this stream."

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That hasn't stopped some residents from wading in, taking the dangerous short-cut back to their flooded homes. It's a risk with consequences that may not show up for weeks.

What looks like a mixture of oil, gasoline and sewage is showing up on streets. That's why emergency crews who've performed rescues for days suit up in rubber suits to limit their exposure.

In addition to normal rescue duties, firefighters have taken to scrubbing each other down after work.

As levels along the Passaic River drop, officials are concerned even more people will take the risk of walking through the water.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.