St. Bernard leaders respond to threat from amoeba

ARABI, LA (WVUE) - St. Bernard officials say they're taking full precautions after a brain-eating amoeba showed up at a testing station in Arabi on Wednesday.

They have begun a 60-day chlorine burn to flush the lines, but they say the sample may have been compromised.

In the heat of the summer, Sonya Jarrow's daughter won't find relief in her kiddie pool today.

"My daughter just wanted to fill it up, but we're not going to do it," Jarrow said.

The Jarrows live just across Angela Street from a water sampling station that came up positive for the organism Naegleria fowleri, and the state health department is advising parents not to let their kids play in untreated pools.

"I'm probably going to cancel my child's swim party because of it," said Arabi parent Victor Pastor.

The 60- day chlorine burn is being implemented to make sure the rest of the system is amoeba-free.

"That chlorine burn put one milligram per liter of chlorine into the system and helps eliminate the possibility of the amoeba in the water system," said Olivia Hwang with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

But parish officials question whether the amoeba is actually present. They say the water's chlorine level was higher than the state department recommended in order to keep the water safe, and they say the pipe at the sampling station was cracked in a recent accident.

"What we believe we have had happen is there's been an infiltration of the water that was pulled around the sampling station," said Parish President Dave Peralta.

There was one other sample that turned up the presence of the amoeba, but that was in water before it entered the treatment plant.

DHH will return to Angela Street and two other locations to test more samples Friday, but results could take 24 days.

"We'll take a culture at a lab in Baton Rouge, and if it looks like an amoeba we have to do a genetic test," Hwang said.

The parish continues flushing out lines at several locations in an effort to keep the system clean, and they're urging residents to refrain from shutting open hydrants -    in spite of the perceived nuisance.

"We're asking people please don't do that," Peralta said. "It's causing a problem for them and us," Peralta said.

Residents say they'll take precautions and wait for the threat to subside.

"I just moved into the parish and I'm not going anywhere - with or without the amoeba. I'm not going anywhere," Jarrow said.

But she's asking health officials to make sure everyone is fully informed, about the threat.

Concern over the water supply comes at a time of a tremendous power struggle between the St. Bernard Parish president and the council over a data system contract with a firm called Paratech. Peralta said he needs that contract to monitor the situation, and may have to issue another emergency declaration to get it back.

"I know what I'll do is bring Paratech in," Peralta said. "I'm not going to let a lawsuit or political differences jeopardize my job."

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