Contamination questions surface as St. Bernard residents are urged to beware of deadly amoeba

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St. Bernard Parish, La. (WGNO) - The quality control chief for St. Bernard Parish, Jacob Groby, says the amoeba scare has a connection to Hurricane Katrina.

Groby says the water problem stems from too few residents moving back after the storm. He points to empty lots in Old Arabi, “As you can see, whole lots are down, nobody is using water.”

A look at the numbers shows that Pre-Katrina, there were some 68,000 residents using nearly 12 million gallons of water per day. There are presently somewhere between 44 and 45 thousand people in the Parish now, using around 7 million gallons of water daily—a difference of five million gallons.

Fewer people, means lower water consumption and what's more, most of those who did come back had to rebuild—and many installed eco-friendly, low-flow plumbing that uses anywhere from 15 to 20 percent less water. So, Groby says, even if all the residents had returned, there would still be a problem.

Those are major reasons why the water in St. Bernard Parish could be sitting in pipes without moving for longer periods than before. In addition, some of the cast iron pipes date back to the 1920s: old pipes that absorb or degrade the chlorine.

But Groby explains that in 2009, St. Bernard took a proactive step to get something no other parish has: “We got FEMA to fund 50 automated flushing stations. These units are programmable. They come on at different times based on the population.”

But in the case of the most recent brain-eating amoeba discovery, there are some questionable circumstances.

The flushing station was damaged, perhaps hit by a car, and it's not just the cracked exterior casing that’s the problem—the internal plumbing was damaged too—so Parish officials and the Department of Health and Hospitals say that the sample that tested positive for the amoeba could have been contaminated.

The broken seal means the amoeba could have come from water outside the Parish water system, but precautions should still be taken such as keeping kids away from hoses, chlorinating pools, and making sure everyone in the family knows to avoid getting water up their nose.


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