Brain-Eating Amoeba Found In Louisiana Tap Water Treated Same As Tulsa's

Monday, September 15th 2014, 11:04 pm
By: News On 6

Imagine being told, by your water provider, to be careful how you use your water because it could kill you. That's been happening in parts of Louisiana after state regulators found a deadly amoeba coming out of people's taps.

Amoeba-laden tap water has killed at least two people in that state, and, it turns out their water is treated the same way Tulsa's water is treated.

The question some are asking: Could it happen here?

Louisiana resident, Kevin Vancamp said, "I get a call from the City saying, 'We found amoeba in the water. Don't get the water up your nose.' I just took a shower. So now I'm like ‘oh my goodness,' you know?"

People in three Louisiana parishes have been put on alert in the last year after the brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria was found in their tap water.

Four-year-old Drake Smith Junior was killed by the amoeba last year.

Louisiana investigators traced it to the tap water used on a slip and slide in his grandmother's backyard.

Before his death, another person was killed by Naegleria when it infected the tap water in a neti pot, used to rinse out their sinuses.

The latest alert, last month, prompted a 60-day chlorine burn in one parish's water distribution system; though no deaths have been reported.

"We did not notice a problem until the state detected it and then a follow up testing also confirmed it," said Natalie Robottom from St. John Parish in Louisiana.

All of the amoeba-laden tap water discovered in Louisiana was treated the same way Tulsa's water is treated, with chloramine.

Water engineers said chloramine-treated water is susceptible to the problem if the distribution system allows it.

In Tulsa, engineers said keeping the water moving throughout the system is the key to avoiding amoebas and bacteria.

Allowing the water to sit motionless in the pipes allows the bacteria-killing chlorines to dissipate, and that's exactly what investigators said happened in Louisiana.

"We designed our system where it's looped, and that means there are no long, dead-end lines. I'm assuming in these small rural areas that is the problem they have, is they have long lines, with not a lot of customers using it, so the water doesn't get turned over often enough,” said Roy Foster with the City of Tulsa.

In fact, chlorine tests in the Louisiana tap water revealed very low levels of disinfectants, less than 0.5 parts per million, meaning those pipes should have been flushed regularly to keep the water safe.

In Tulsa's distribution system there are almost a thousand miles of dead-end lines where water has the potential to get stagnant and be at risk of developing amoebas.

State regulations require those lines to be flushed every 90 days, but in Tulsa, Foster said dead-end lines are flushed monthly.

"We have a crew, and its two or three men, and that's all their job is, all month long is to drive around to these known sites where there is the potential for the water to get old, and flush it until the chlorine residuals to go back up,” he said.

Still, we wanted to see Tulsa's levels for ourselves, so we looked at test results from 215 Tulsa taps, tested each month.

The results show Tulsa's water had four times the amount of disinfectants in its water than the water in Louisiana, an average of 2 parts per million, meeting state regulations.

That still doesn't sit well with Jeanine Kinney with Tulsans Against Chloramine.

She sent out an email alert, hoping to raise awareness of the Louisiana amoeba, and keep Tulsans informed.

"This is just another example of what can happen on a system that uses chloramine to disinfect their water; be it a amoeba, E.coli, water-borne diseases, parasites, bacteria, biofilm, what have you," Kinney said.

She and her group have been pushing for a different type of water treatment here and said the brain-eating amoeba risk is just one of many reasons people should take the issue seriously.

It's not just a worry for people in Tulsa. Engineers say people in rural water districts need to be aware too, as dead-end lines can create an even higher risk there.

Naegleria infections are extremely rare, and the only way to be infected is when the amoeba-laden water is forced up your nose. You cannot get it from drinking the water.

Authorities say Naegleria has never been found in Oklahoma tap water.