When the Mississippi flooded last month, 180,000 tons of sand were shoveled into more than 9 million sandbags in towns from Illinois to Minnesota, to help hold back the waters. Now the sandbags have become sodden, polluted liabilities and removing them has become a public health issue.

?They?re wet and fishy,? says Chief Larry Granneman of the Niota Volunteer Fire Department, which used more than 200,000 sandbags to shore up the town?s aged, battered levee.

They don?t expect to get much help, when it comes time to clean up the bags. ?It?s more glamorous to fight the flood than to clean up when the flood waters recede,? says Mike Chamness, Illinois Emergency Management Director.

?They don?t even recommend you going into the water during a flood fight because of bacteria, oil, sewage and everything else that gets in the water that?s not supposed to,? says U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Ron Fournier. ?It would go hand-in-hand that a sandbag that?s been exposed to that is something you wouldn?t want to have hanging around too long.?

After the floods of 1993, the sand was recycled if possible, and most of the bags ended up in landfills. The polluted sand can be mixed with cement for road repair. ?Obviously it doesn?t go into kids? sandboxes in the backyard,? says Kevin Smith, of the Minnesota Dept. of Public Safety.

In Davenport, Iowa, the city plans to sell some of the ?clean? sandbags, that were filled but never used, for 25 cents each. Some intact bags will be moved to help build up a levee in a flood-prone area and the contents of others will be used as filler in the city?s compost facility. ?Some [sandbags] never left the truck,? says city spokeswoman Jennifer Nahra. ?Of the rest, we hope we can use them whenever possible.?

Meanwhile, parts of the world on opposite sides of globe are beginning to wonder if it will ever stop raining. It?s hard to recall 3 days in the last 3 months when there has been no rain in London. Parks and public pathways are impossible to negotiate because they have become bogs and swamps. ?There are climate predictions indicating that the frequency of flooding in the south of England will increase,? said a spokesman for the Meteorological Office.

Environmentalists say the unusually wet weather is consistent with predictions by scientists studying the impact of global warming on the region. ?Researchers anticipate hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters in Britain,? says Roger Higman, senior climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth. He said the effects of this could range from changes in planting cycles and wildlife habitats to higher insurance premiums and even parts of the country disappearing into the sea.

Near the bottom of the planet, Sydney, Australia is also drenched and gloomy, and emergency workers are on standby for yet another day of flooding. Homes are being sandbagged and an art gallery has removed several paintings as a precaution against leaks.

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