Ascension Parish water system undergoing chlorine burn following DHH ameba

Leslie D. Rose @DvilleNewsie

Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez announced on July 28 that Ascension Parish Consolidated Utility District 1 (9295 Brou Road) will undergo immediate chlorine burning in its water system following the discovery of the Naegleria fowleri, an ameba that occurs naturally in freshwater, by state Department of Health and Hospitals officials.

Naegleria fowleri causes a disease called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), which is a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue. In its early stages, symptoms of PAM may be similar to bacterial meningitis.

The water system, which serves approximately 1,800 residents in a small community north of Donaldsonville in Ascension Parish, was tested by DHH as part of the State’s new public drinking water surveillance program. DHH notified the water system and local officials Tuesday afternoon. The Department asked the water system to conduct a 60-day chlorine burn to ensure that any remaining ameba in the system are eliminated. Parish officials today confirmed that the system would conduct the burn out of an abundance of caution. 

The water system was not in compliance with the requirements for chloramine disinfectant levels set forth by the 2013 by emergency rule and additional requirements in 2014 by the Louisiana Legislature at the location where the sample tested positive for the ameba. Three other sites on the system tested negative for the ameba, but did meet the requirement for disinfectant.

Parish officials said one of the four sites sampled tested positive with signs showing that its chlorine levels were below the 0.5 mg/l requirement. 

“The utility district affects approximately 600-plus customers northwest of Donaldsonville,” President Martinez said in a press release. “We are taking precautionary measures that DHH approves of and would ask our residents to follow the rules that DHH has provided.”

Lester Kenyon of Ascension Parish’s public information office advised that the treatments will begin July 29-30.

“The attached map shows the area, in blue, that will be treated starting today or tomorrow,” Kenyon said. “The positive was detected at the end of the line of the water system ACUD #1 coming from Assumption Parish, shown on the map. Although it showed a positive at that location, the entire system will undergo a chlorine burn for 60 days.”

Kenyon continued that only the residents living in the blue area are affected.

According to Kenyon, ACUD #1 also receives water from St. James Parish on the east side of Donaldsonville. That system is not in question. Neither is the Peoples Water system.  

While DHH confirms the prescnce of the ameba, they maintain that the water is safe to consume, althought certain procautions myst be taken.

“Tap water in from the Ascension Consolidated Utility District 1 is safe for residents to drink, but the Department urges residents to avoid getting water in their noses,” said DHH officials in a press release.

According to DHH, since Naegleria fowleri infections are extremely rare, testing for this ameba in public drinking water is still relatively new and evolving. They report that fewer than 10 deaths in the United States have been traced back to the ameba, with three occurring in Louisiana over the last several years. 

DHH conducts sampling of public drinking water systems for Naegleria fowleri each summer when temperatures rise. So far, DHH has tested 12 other systems for the ameba. One positive result was identified on July 22 in St. Bernard Parish. St. Bernard Parish is currently conducting a chlorine burn throughout their water system to eliminate any remaining ameba. 

Precautionary Measures for Families

According to the CDC, every resident can take simple steps to help reduce their risk of Naegleria fowleri infection. Individuals should focus on limiting the amount of water going up their nose. Preventative measures recommended by the CDC include the following:

• DO NOT allow water to go up your nose or sniff water into your nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming in small hard plastic/blow-up pools.

• DO NOT jump into or put your head under bathing water (bathtubs, small hard plastic/blow-up pools); walk or lower yourself in.

• DO NOT allow children to play unsupervised with hoses or sprinklers, as they may accidentally squirt water up their nose. Avoid slip-n-slides or other activities where it is difficult to prevent water going up the nose.

• DO run bath and shower taps and hoses for five minutes before use to flush out the pipes. This is most important the first time you use the tap after the water utility raises the disinfectant level.

• DO keep small hard plastic/blow-up pools clean by emptying, scrubbing and allowing them to dry after each use.

• DO use only boiled and cooled, distilled or sterile water for making sinus rinse solutions for neti pots or performing ritual ablutions.

• DO keep your swimming pool adequately disinfected before and during use. Adequate disinfection means:
- Pools: free chlorine at 1 to 3 parts per million (ppm) and pH 7.2 to 7.8, and
- Hot tubs/spas: free chlorine 2 to 4 parts per million (ppm) or free bromine 4 to 6 ppm and pH 7.2 to 7.8.

• If you need to top off the water in your swimming pool with tap water, place the hose directly into the skimmer box and ensure that the filter is running. Do not top off the pool by placing the hose in the body of the pool.

Residents should continue these precautions until testing no longer confirms the presence of the ameba in the water system. Residents will be made aware when that occurs.

The Ascension Parish Utilities Dept. has provided the following information to ensure resident safety.

What is being done?

We are going to change the distribution system disinfectant from chloramines to free chlorine to disinfect the system.

What should I do?

You do not need to boil your water or take other actions. This is not an emergency. If it had been, you would have been notified immediately.

What can I do if I notice a chlorine taste or smell?

During the temporary switch, you may notice a chlorine taste and/or odor in your drinking water.

Residents who Parish-specific questions may contact Kenyon at (225) 450-1138.

For further information on preventative measures, cdc.gov/parasites/naegleria/prevention.html.