Olivia Watkins, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, answered a few questions by reporter Maya Rodriguez on how the oil spill may impact water supplies along the coast.
1) What happens if oil pushes further up into the marshes? What testing is being doing to make sure it hasn't gotten into drinking water system:
We’re preparing for all worse case scenarios even if they are highly unlikely. Rivers flow downstream so at this point we’ve seen no concern for encroachment of oil. EPA and DEQ do testing of in-stream waters and there’s been no concerns noted. DHH tests water after it’s treated – basically water that you drink. The systems along the Mississippi including New Orleans-area ones have regular testing equipment in place for oil because they’ve had spills to deal with in the past. Terrebonne and Lafourche areas don’t have this as a regular part of their testing mechanisms, but we’re working on adding it. In the meantime, we’re closely watching the in-stream testing and have seen no reason to worry at this point.
2) Some systems have put containment boom around their intake systems to keep the oil out.
We are working closely with local systems to be proactive instead of reactive. That’s why they are doing booming exercises. We’ve also asked them to hire engineering firms to do a full assessment of the systems and plans for the worst-case scenario emergencies.
3.) How would we handle contamination of public drinking water systems if it happened since boil orders are used for bacterial contamination, but this is chemical?
The reality is that current protocols for water treatment already treat for hydrocarbons present in oil, so unless it was a massive contamination for a prolonged period of time, those chemicals would be treated before going into people’s homes. Having said that, large amounts of oil are also very bad for the mechanics of the systems, so the priority is to keep it out.
4.)What happens if we have a storm surge that pushes oil into these water systems? Do we have a plan to deal with it?
Most of our systems have alternate intakes that can be switched to. Do-not-use orders could be issued in the unlikely case if the situation reached that level. We are putting in some of the most aggressive, proactive plans to deal with any scenario. State and local officials are meeting tomorrow to discuss some of these worse-case scenarios and ascertain what kind of equipment is needed and how much it will cost. Obviously, we believe BP needs to pay for any of those costs.