SLIDELL- One official is calling it close to a public health emergency.
There were new problems this weekend with chlorine levels in drinking water and sewage overflows from some customers of Tammany Utilities-East. Those come on the heels of months of complaints of the same kind.
Now, the state is stepping in.
Just yards from the front doors of Honey Island Elementary sits a lift station. It's one of 200 that St. Tammany Parish operates as Tammany Utilities to get sewage from neighborhoods into treatment facilities. On December 28th, it backed up sending sewage into the grass and ditches around it.
While the parish responded to stop the spill, area Councilman Gene Bellisario says it wasn't good enough.
"They did not remove the sewer waste and toilet paper that was all over the ground and had been there from at least December 28th until I was called last Friday, the 5th," he said. "It really stunned me and upset me that something like that could happen."
But what got Bellisario boiling over was that this wasn't the first time Tammany Utilities has fallen short lately.
Also on Friday, several neighborhoods in the Slidell area, part of the Cross Gates Water System under Tammany Utilities, were put under a Boil Water Notice due to a failure in the system that supplies chlorine disinfection to their drinking water. At the same time, a notice arrived in those same residents' mailboxes informing them that the system recently "failed to have analyzed two of the 100 samples required during the month of September and therefore violated two drinking water monitoring requirements. These incidents were not emergencies and we have since taken corrective actions."
These same neighborhoods have been complaining of sporadic spikes in chlorine levels for several months, with a less-than-satisfactory answer as to why.
"There's often times when my 3-year-old takes a bath, and even sometimes when I take a shower, that we can tell when the chlorine level is high because the whites of our eyes are red and that shouldn't happen from taking a bath," said Melanie Richmond, who lives in The Landings neighborhood. "I don't have confidence in Tammany Utilities. If I could change water companies, I probably would."
While the parish says there was no correlation discovered between Friday's chlorine issue and the previous complaints about high levels of the chemical, it continues to monitor the levels every day and will continue to make adjustments as needed.
As for the handling of the sewage leak near the school, the parish said in a statement, "We feel our response to this was unacceptable. We will be taking a hard look at standard operating procedures, retraining employees and making every effort to improve the manner in which we do business."
But Bellisario says he wants more, including a plan for regular upgrades to equipment for both water and sewer systems, because he believes the problem is rooted in a lack of maintenance.
The state Department of Health is also requesting information now. Following its investigation into the latest Boil Water Advisory, an agency spokesman said, "Cross Gates is required to develop and submit for review Standard Operating Procedures for chlorine residual monitoring, chlorine monitoring at the POE (well) and distribution system, and chlorine dosing at the well."
State Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville, began looking into the sewage operations of Tammany Utilities last month after his own personal frustrations with the system. He says he's anticipating a report back from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality in regard to the proper reporting of sewage spills this week.
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