St. Bernard Parish continues testing water after amoeba scare


Posted on January 19, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Updated Sunday, Jan 19 at 12:03 PM

Jaclyn Kelley / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @jkelleyWWL

ST. BERNARD -- The rare and deadly brain-eating amoeba found in St. Bernard Parish has sparked new water safety regulations across the state.

The deadline to meet those regulations is Feb. 1, and Eyewitness News returned to the parish for an update on the efforts to keep the water supply safe.

The fire hydrant outside Ernest Maldonado's home has been running for two weeks. Water crews turned it on to flush the water system, which in turn keeps chlorine levels elevated throughout the parish. But with that comes an unpleasant smell.

“The chlorine, you can literally smell it,” said Arabi resident Ernesto Maldonado.

St. Bernard Parish officials say the water is safe to drink while crews treat the water system with free chlorine, but Maldonado said he and his family are not taking any chances.

“No, no we don't drink the water, we don't cook with the water and when it comes to the washing, well, we do that,” said Maldonado.

The parish started treating the water back in September when officials learned a 4-year-old, Mississippi boy died after contracting the rare brain-eating amoeba while playing on a slip and slide in Violet.

Soon after, water samples, taking by the Department of Health and Hospitals, revealed the deadly parasite was present at four different sites throughout the parishes' water system.

In order to kill the amoeba, the state then required the parish to raise the level of chlorine to double the new standard for 60 days.

“We have been test several times a week, alongside the state taking their readings too, and all the readings are well above the 1.0 that we need to maintain for the 60-day burn,” said Ray Lauga, District A, councilman and chairman of the water and sewer committee.

It’s good news from parish officials.

“It’s not just putting chlorine in the system,” said Lauga. “It’s flushing at periodical intervals to make sure your pulling that volume through there to keep these elevated levels and it has been a chore for the water and sewer workers, and they have done a great job with it.”

That 60-day period will come to an end next week, on Jan. 22., and officials say that’s when they will begin gradually reducing chlorine levels to the new standard.

Parish officials say they are in the process of applying for a state loan program to replace old, cast-iron pipes, which they say will help them maintain newly mandated chlorine levels in the future.