DHH: Chlorine burn to fight Ascension Parish amoeba outbreak has not yet begun

DHH: Chlorine burn to fight Ascension Parish amoeba outbreak has not yet begun
Water station on Brou Road in Ascension Parish (Source: WAFB)
Water station on Brou Road in Ascension Parish (Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)
(Source: WAFB)

DONALDSONVILLE, LA (WAFB) - Officials from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) revealed Tuesday that the chlorine burn designed to rid an Ascension Parish water system of brain-eating amoeba has not yet officially begun.

"Right now chlorine levels are coming up. They're not quite that high throughout the system," said Dr. Jimmy Guidry, a state health official with the DHH.

Guidry said it could be weeks before enough chlorine is added to the system to reach the level required to start the 60-day burn.

The amoeba was first found in the Ascension Consolidated Utility District 1 in the Modeste area at the end of July. The water system is relatively small, only servicing about 600 homes or about 1,800 people.

In order for the burn to begin, the chlorine level must be at 1 mg/L. That level is twice the normally state-sanctioned chlorine level. If at any time during the burn the chlorine level dips below the required level, Guidry said they have to start the countdown over again.

"We have to do it right. We have to do the flushing that is necessary. We have to do the treatment that is necessary," Guidry said.

The announcement came at a public meeting held at the George Blum Community Center in Donaldsonville. Nearly 25 members of the public showed up to voice their concerns and get their questions answered by state health officials.

The meeting was organized by State Sen. Troy Brown, D-Napoleonville, who said he has received many calls and questions about the water.

"Most of the communication that I have gotten has been scared and afraid of what is what," he said. "I think this meeting is going to give these people the necessary information."

Health officials said that while slowly increasing chlorine levels will help reduce the amoeba, people should continue to take caution.

"There's no way of knowing if there's no amoeba, so we still give the same precautions until we've completed the burn," said Guidry.

That means people should avoid getting water up their nose. They should not dunk small children in bath water, and people should double check that water in swimming pools has been chlorinated.

The water is safe to drink and will continue to be so even with the added chlorine.

Other members of the public raised questions about how to prevent this sort of amoeba outbreak from happening again.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's not going to happen again, but I can tell you the experts are committed to trying to figure out how to keep it from happening," Guidry said.

Officials said part of the problem is that chlorine wears off as it goes down the pipes. The amoeba was first located at the outer fringes of the system.

"At the very end of the line, the chlorine is sort of limited versus the beginning and the middle phase of the line," Brown said.

Health officials say that the water must continue to be monitored.

"You may have to do booster in the system or another burn to make sure this amoeba doesn't come back," Guidry said.

So far, the DHH said there have been no health related issues as a result of amoeba in Louisiana this year.

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