Residents express concern about safety of water

2017
In the wake of the chlorine burn, community members bought home testing kits like this one to test the chemical levels in their water. (Photo courtesy of Chris Graham)

By Stacey Tinsley, stinsley@bossierpress.com

Bossier residents are concerned about their health regarding the chlorine flush of the Bossier City  water system.

Bossier City began flushing chlorine through its water system Oct. 15 after one of five samples of city water tested positive for Naegleria fowleri, also known as brain-eating amoeba. The flush is to last for 60 days.

“After the announcement that the amoeba had been found in the Sligo water system, the City made the decision to move forward with a Chlorine cleanse that had originally been scheduled for Bossier City for next year. Shortly after that decision was made, while gearing up to switch disinfectants, is when we received the disturbing results that one of five samples taken by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals tested positive for the presence of the amoeba,” said Bossier City Public Information Officer Traci Landry.

In late September, Sligo Water System in south Bossier Parish tested positive for the amoeba. The positive water sample came from a valve that connects Sligo to the Bossier City water system.

Three other water systems — the Town of Benton, Cypress Black Bayou, and Country Place Subdivision — also performed the chlorine flush because they buy water from Bossier City.

Although the chlorine flush was originally set for the first quarter of 2019 and was moved up, much attention has been paid to the procedure.

Landry said the positive test result came from a site in the southern part of the city, which is when DHH made their recommendation that the city conduct the chlorine flush. However, she said the city was already taking those measures according to state-mandated regulations.

“During the chlorine cleanse, we are required to maintain state-mandated levels of free chlorine. Chlorine levels are closely monitored by the DHH and the city during the process. The chlorine method we are using to improve and enhance the City’s distribution system is prescribed by the Louisiana Department of Health.”

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has taken aim at Bossier City for its water quality. The legal clerk who gained national fame, sparking a movie dramatizing her involvement in a lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric Company, says Bossier City residents are being lied to about their water in several Facebook posts.

“You are going to be burned out and flushed…because the City won’t get off chloramine and clean the dirt out of your drinking water like they are supposed to. And the line about the ‘Water Still Safe to Drink’ is a ridiculous LIE!!!” she said in a post earlier in October.

Some Bossier residents are also questioning if  Bossier City officials are telling them the whole truth about the safety of the city’s water.

One south Bossier resident, who wished to withhold their identity says, “The smell is so strong — just to brush your teeth. A shower is going to be unpleasant. It doesn’t seem safe. it worries me. My daughter has asthma and her body is sensitive. We both suffer from migraines. I’m sure we don’t have all the information. They are telling us what they are obligated to.”

Local resident Melinda Cleary says, “When I took my bath, my water had a yellow color to it. I thought it was strange. I will be checking the levels on it in the morning. I just don’t believe they’re telling us the truth. And seriously, how do you keep your little one from getting water up there noses?”

However, some local residents are not convinced that Brockovich is knowledgable enough to make such judgements and trusts the city.

“I looked up her educational background. She has a degree in business. I wouldn’t trust anyone who talks about chemical compounds and their effects, and does not possess a degree in chemistry, biochemistry, etc,” said resident Drake Smith. “She links primary research articles that state these chemicals ‘may’ be a health risk to humans. I wouldn’t freak out about it, but it could be a problem. Wait until the city makes its statement. They will probably have an expert there to talk about it.”

Landry said the city has, and will continue to, provide accurate and factual information to residents about “the reality of what we are facing and the actions we are taking.”

“The amoeba works in a very specific way through direct contact with brain tissue, hence the precaution to avoid water up your nose. The water is safe to drink. But regardless of the science and that it is preventable by taking those measures, it is still a disturbing thing to think about,” says Landry.

Jimmy Guidry, M.D., state health officer of Louisiana and Louisiana Department of Health medical director, explained that the amoeba is present in all of the state’s water and can very easy get in drinking water, and that the only way to keep it from thriving is by killing it with chemicals.

“Usually our disinfectant, our chemicals, is what keeps it from thriving and living in water. And it thrives really well in the summer when it’s hot. So all you need is a leak or crack in the pipe and this amoeba gets in and if there is not enough chlorine there it will set up shop,” he said. “It is hard to get. You really have to get water way up in your sinus, way up your nose. We routinely go out and test systems every year and look for this amoeba. And when we find it, the recommendations are that we get the chlorine level up to a level so that it can’t survive.”

The CDC recommends taking the following precautions: 

• 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). Instead, walk or lower yourself in.

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

• DO run bath and shower taps and hoses for 5 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 drying them  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.