Fox 8 Investigation: St. Bernard chlorine levels have been low i - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Fox 8 Investigation: St. Bernard chlorine levels have been low in some areas for years

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Chalmette, La. - To kill off amoebas and bacteria that could live in parish water, there needs to be a detectable level of chlorine. That's where Jake Groby comes in.

Groby and his staff at the St. Bernard Parish Public Works Department test 30 sites along the water system every month for chlorine levels.

According to experts at the state's Department of Health and Hospitals, a free chlorine or chloramine reading of, .5 mg/L or higher will control the amoeba Naegleria fowleri, "provided the disinfectant residual persists throughout the water supply system at all times."

State tests after the death of a 4-year-old boy was traced to the amoeba showed that some water in the parish was not sufficiently chlorinated to control the amoeba.

"When we went and performed the amoeba testing in those areas, we found low to no detectable amounts of chlorine," said DHH's Chief Engineer Jake Causey.

Documents FOX 8 obtained from the state and the parish show that certain chlorine levels have been low for years.

"What we're finding is that there were other areas in the system that were having problems," Causey said.

The state has general guidelines that recommend chlorine levels to be at least 1.5 mg/L. In Arabi and Violet, levels have often been below that recommendation since at least 2009.

From 2009 to 2011, for example, the test site at 6917 Royal Street in Arabi was consistently below .5 mg/L. Then, the parish stopped taking readings at that location.

Over the past five years at certain other locations throughout the parish, levels were even lower. In February and March of 2012, chlorine levels at the Ycloskey Fire Station dropped to .06 mg/L and .03 mg/L.

However, keeping chlorine levels any higher is not a federal or state requirement.

"They're saying it's recommended," said Groby. "It's not required. And I'm not splitting hairs, I'm just saying, all these years we've worked with them, they have never complained to us that this wasn't good enough."

The meter on Angela Street in Arabi has consistently shown relatively lower levels of chlorine than elsewhere in the parish since they began testing there in January of 2012.

This summer, the state tested the water from a home on that same street and found traces of the amoeba and no level of chlorine.

Also in 2011, just a few blocks down the road from the meter site, a 28-year-old died of the amoeba after using a netti pot with tap water.

Groby said it's important to make the distinction that the reading that showed no chlorine was taken from an Angela Street home as opposed to directly tapping into the parish pipes.

With low levels of chlorine in the area already, Groby said the location of the test can make a big difference.

"Based on the material that the pipe is, whether it be galvanized or plastic or transite or cast iron, the material wall coming in contact with the water will absorb a lot of the chlorine," said Groby.

He said it's much harder to keep water moving in areas that have not been redeveloped since Katrina.

"We knew from the onset - how do we keep the water fresh? How do we keep it moving? This is the answer," said Groby.

In 2008, the parish installed 50 devices that each flush the water system once a week. They do the flush by directing water into the storm drain to keep the water flowing. However, it's not enough to keep chlorine levels as high as the state suggests in certain areas such as Arabi.

"I can't tell you that I can maintain a .5 at that location," said Groby. "I would be making it up, and I'm not going to do that."

However, the state might require it.

Causey said that because St. Bernard Parish has had some Safe Drinking Water Act violations within the past five years, the low-to-no chlorine levels in some areas may mean it's time for the state to step in.

"I believe looking back at the violation history, it looks like they may be at or near or past that trigger," said Causey.

Causey said he's working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control to decide what, if any, enforcement actions should be taken.

More importantly, Causey said the state and federal groups will focus on what changes need to be made to the water system so chlorine remains at a safe level throughout the parish.

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