Parish officials urge citizens to stay away from contaminated river

St. Tammany officials urge citizens to stay away from Bogue Chitto River for now

SUN, LA (WVUE) - - On a day with picture perfect weather the Bogue Chitto River moved calmly through parts of Saint Tammany Parish.

But its tranquil appearance ran against current concerns.

"Stay away from the Bogue Chitto in any fashion right until we really know what will be in Saint Tammany Parish. We don't know the counts yet, we don't really know what will be getting," said Saint Tammany Parish President Pat Brister.

A warning is in effect against wading, swimming, and fishing in the river.

It is because an estimated six-million gallons of sewage entered the river in Brookhaven, Mississippi after a levee breach at a sewage treatment plant.

"My biggest concern is when it gets down here it's going to leak out into the lake and then the lake's going to be all polluted again," said Saint Tammany Resident Vince Iannazzo.

The Louisiana Health Department said public health could be at risk.

"That river runs through Washington Parish and Saint Tammany," said Dr. Gina Lagarde, Region 9 Medical Director for the Louisiana Department of Health.

"It increased the level of bacterial, or fecal coliform, meaning bacterial in the river to levels that's unhealthy for swimming and fishing at this time," Dr. Lagarde continued.

The contaminated water has already invaded Louisiana, according to Saint Tammany officials.

"The product is moving about one mile an hour and it went into Washington Parish last night," said Brister.

She said it was expected to reach the portion of the river flowing through Saint Tammany before day's end.

State Health officials said ingesting the contaminated water or getting it into one's body another way could produce stomach cramps, diarrhea, sore throat, and eye infections.

"The bacterial can enter the body through the mouth, the nose, the eyes, as well as any cuts or wounds of the skin," said Dr. Lagarde.

"We just hope and pray for everybody downstream that it doesn't present any kind of health risks to anybody, to homeowners are anything," said Bob McBride, a concerned resident.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is testing the river's waters to determine what points it reaches in Louisiana.

"As it moves further down it disperses somewhat more, so I think until it comes into the area that we're looking at we really won't know," said Brister.

While everyone should take precautions, exposure to contaminated river water could be especially hard on children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

"The groups that are at greater risk of getting sick," said Dr. Lagarde.

"Just hope that nobody suffers any loss or health issues because of it," continued McBride.

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