BATON ROUGE, La. -- The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals asked 85 water systems across the state to increase their chlorine levels to 0.5 miligrams per liter as a precautionary measure to stave off a potentially deadly brain-eating amoeba.
Water systems in many metro-area parishes are affected by the increase, which the state health officer for DHH said Thursday may become permanent.
"Our system is just fine," said Robert Jackson, a spokesman for the Orleans Parish Sewerage & Water Board.
He said the chlorine levels have always been high enough to kill the brain-eating amoeba.
Jefferson Parish is also on the list for water systems that use chloramine to disinfect their water. Public Information Officer Kriss Fortunato released this statement about their precautions:
"Jefferson Parish water is safe and meets all the state and federal requirements.
"Jefferson Parish continues to monitor the water system closely and provides high quality water to the citizens of the parish.
"We have met the requirements of the Total Coliform Rule, promulgated in 1989, the Stage 2 Disinfection Byproducts Rule, 2006 and the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment rule, 2006 which protects the public from pathogens such as E. Coli, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and disinfection byproducts.
"Jefferson Parish employs 12 full time scientists who perform analysis for chemical and microbiological contaminants in the drinking water. Of the 12 scientists, 5 are microbiologists and 7 are chemists. The Water Quality Lab is certified for chemical and microbiological testing through the Department of Health and Hospitals for these analyses.
"The primary treatment and disinfection of the drinking water occurs at the 2 treatment plants. The treatment process is continually monitored with process monitors, a computer system and is staffed with Class 4 licensed treatment plant operators 24 /7. Normal residuals leaving the treatment plants are from 2.5 to3.5 parts per million of Chloramines.
"The current requirement for the disinfectant residual within the distribution system is “a detectable residual” and we have met this requirement throughout the distribution systems on both banks of the river.
"We currently have in place a program where we monitor the Chloramine residuals in the distribution system and when the residuals are below 0.50ppm, we collect additional samples to determine if biological activity is present.
"We are constantly working to increase the Chloramine residuals within the distribution system through the location and elimination of closed valves and dead ends within the system and will implement a flushing system if necessary in order to fully comply with the DHH recommendation at all points in the distribution system.
"Monthly, we are required to collect 150 total coliform samples for the East Bank of Jefferson Parish and 120 samples for the West Bank of Jefferson Parish, at 80 dedicated sampling sites on each bank. This requirement is based on the number of customers served by the utility. We usually collect about 180 samples per month on the East bank and 140 samples per month on the West Bank to fulfill the testing requirements of the Total Coliform Rule. "The treatment plants for Jefferson Parish provide at least five to ten times the required amount of disinfection of the drinking water on a daily basis year round."
St. Charles Parish is also evaluating their chlorine levels because they are one of the 85 systems that use chloramine, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, to clean their systems. Renee Simpson, the Public Information Officer for St. Charles Parish sent this statement about the situation:
“St. Charles Parish Waterworks is currently assessing the new Department of Health and Hospitals' chlorination recommendations which were issued Oct. 9, 2013. The recommendations will most likely result in increased flushing of portions of the water system. Since the Naegleria fowleri amoeba was detected in St. Bernard Parish last month, St. Charles Parish Waterworks treatment operations personnel have increased chlorine sampling of the parish’s water system to ensure its continued safety. Waterworks officials will continue to monitor the situation and provide the safest, highest quality water to the citizens of St. Charles Parish.”
Plaquemines Parish officials say they are continuing to take the same precautionary measures that they began when St. Bernard's water supply tested positive for the amoeba back in September. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said he had requested that DHH test the Plaqumines water supply as a precaution.
In St. John the Baptist Parish, leaders are also taking extra precautions. They released the following statement Thursday morning:
"As a result of the recent detection of ameba in St. Bernard and DeSoto parish water systems, St. John Parish has implemented additional sampling and testing procedures to ensure the water supply remains safe. The Utilities Department has also increased the levels of chlorine and ammonia in the water system to control bacterial growth as recommended by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH). Two chlorine burns have been conducted and distribution lines have been flushed with additional chlorine as a precaution.
"During this process, residents MAY notice a change in the smell and taste of the water throughout the parish; however it remains safe to drink. Residents are advised to take personal actions to protect themselves from potential exposure to ameba by limiting the amount of water entering the nasal passage while bathing or swimming."
Here is a list from the Department of Health and Hospitals of all the chloramine-using water systems.