Parish continues flushing water system to purge amoeba threat

Sep 30th, 2013 | By | Category: Top Story

 

The St. Bernard Council Chamber was standing room only as concerned residents from across the parish gathered to hear from State Senator J.P. Morrell, the Center for Disease Control, Dept. of Health and Hospitals, and others on the issue of the deadly amoeba that has caused two deaths and has been positively linked to parish water. Photo by Michael Chutz

The St. Bernard Council Chamber was standing room only as concerned residents from
across the parish gathered to hear from State Senator J.P. Morrell, the Center for Disease
Control, Dept. of Health and Hospitals, and others on the issue of the deadly amoeba that
has caused two deaths and has been positively linked to parish water. Photo by Michael Chutz

On Monday, several hundred residents packed the Council Chambers to attend State Senator J.P. Morrell’s public meeting that aimed to ease the community’s concerns about the brain-eating amoeba found in the Parish’s water system. He, along with representatives of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), the Office of Public Health, and other departments discussed—at length—the amoeba, the Parish’s water system, and preventative measures.

 

TheAmoeba

Naegleria fowler, or the “brain-eating” amoeba as it has recently been referred to, has officially been detected in areas of the Parish’s water system, but is only harmful when it enters into one’s nasal passages— it is completely safe to drink the water.

 

“The only way this amoeba can have a harmful effect on people is if it enters through the nose,” said Dr. Raoult Ratard, State Epidemiologist. “But not just in the nostrils, it would have to travel all the way up to the ceiling of the nose, which is at the base of the brain.”

 

This amoeba is usually found in lakes and ponds, but can also be found in warm or standing water. The panel said it is found in the water all over the world, but contracting it is a rare occurrence. However, there have been two deaths in the Parish within the past two years due to this amoeba. Also, there were four sites in the Parish that tested positive for the amoeba—two in Arabi and two in Violet.

 

Low levels of chlorine in certain areas of the water system may be the reason why this amoeba has become present.

 

“The amoeba hasn’t been found throughout the Parish’s water system,” said John Willams, DistrictEngineerforDHH. “We only found the amoeba where there was no chlorine detected in the system.”

 

The Water System

Senator Morrell, along with DHH and the CDC said that there is no real way to know where this amoeba came from, saying that each could come from a different source. “It may be stemming from homes, or possibly breaks in the lines,” said Dr. Michael Beach, Associate Director for Healthy Water.

 

“There is no way to really know where it came from, but we do know that sufficient levels of chlorine in the water have been proven to kill the amoeba.”

 

The parish has been “flushing and burning” the water system for weeks now by opening fire hydrants and adding higher levels of chlorine to the water. Slowly but surely the chlorine levels have been rising, and officials say that this will be enough to combat the amoeba’s presence, said Jake Causey, Chief Engineer for DHH.

 

Williams told residents that the parish’s goal is “to get the chlorine level in the water supply up to one milligram per liter of water.” Previously, parish and DHH officials had said that they were looking to get the chlorine level up to 0.5 mg/L, which is the amount needed to keep it amoeba-free.

 

Williams said that DHH would ensure that the one milligram of chlorine per liter of water is maintained for at least 60 days.

 

“After those 60 days, DHH and the parish are going to maintain 0.5 parts per million of chlorine for maintenance,” said Causey. And that once the parish switches back to chloramine—a disinfectant that contains chlorine and ammonia— the parish “will have higher than trace amounts of chlorine.”

 

Causey also said that instead of testing the water 30 times per month as usual, the Parish Government and DHH have agreed to increase the water testing to 50 times per month throughout the parish and they will rotate those 50 samplings among 75 different sites throughout the parish. Included in these sites are schools, high risk sites such as Arabi and Violet, and random sites throughout the Parish.

 

Preventative Measures

Dr. Ratard, as well as representatives from CDC and DHH eased a few residents concerns when they expressed that even if the amoeba is in the water, it is completely safe to drink. They also stated that the levels of chlorine in the water were in no way harmful to humans or pets.

 

However, residents should continue to avoid getting water up their noses at all costs until sufficient testing has been completed.

 

For a few weeks the Parish’s schools had turned off all water fountains for fear that children might have gotten water up their noses.

 

But DHH and CDC have confirmed that the schools will be turning the water back on, stating that chlorine levels at the schools, which are all test sites, are well above the minimum chlorine requirements.

 

“After the chlorine flush and burn is complete we will do some more amoeba sampling,” said Causey. “ About two months from now, when the flush/burn is done we will come in and test the water, filters, and meters to make sure everything is safe.”

 

The Parish and the state are working together to combat this issue, and caution residents to continue their precautions until more information is gathered.

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