Update – Water District #1
September 9, 2014
Based on advice of legal counsel and ongoing investigations regarding Water District #1, these remarks are for informational purposes only. No questions will be addressed at this time. Water District #1 includes Reserve, Garyville, Mt. Airy and W. 5th Street from Apricot to Acorn and areas west of River Parishes Hospital.
St. John Parish remains in response mode as we deal with the Emergency Order in Water District #1. At the same time, our efforts are directed at keeping our entire water system safe. Although there are no known reports of illness associated with the ameba, we are focused on eliminating conditions that breed the ameba and are working to restore water that is safe for all purposes. Once the crisis is under control, then and only then will our attention turn to other matters.
As Parish President, I am ultimately responsible for making sure the water is safe and for complying with the Emergency Order. This is and has been my number 1 priority since being notified of the Emergency Order on August 27. I accept that responsibility and I am in constant contact with investigators, DHH staff, consultants, and utility employees and supervisors. A determination must be made as to what led to this emergency and what steps can be taken to prevent it from happening again. Corrective measures will be taken to address all procedural and personnel deficiencies that impact the health and safety of our residents.
Timeline of Events
On August 12, representatives from DHH collected 5 samples in Water District #1 to test for the ameba. Although not specifically testing for Chlorine, three samples were found to have less than .5mg/l of Chlorine as required, but the Parish was not notified in a timely manner.
On August 21, a DHH employee informed a Parish consultant of Chlorine deficiences noted during the August 12 sampling.
On August 22, Parish staff verified low levels of Chlorine at certain locations in the parish and Chlorine levels at all plants were elevated and additional flushing conducted throughout the system. Both are approved methods for chlorinating the system.
Mid-morning on August 25, I was notified by the Utilities Director that the state's samples detected low Chlorine levels. The Utilities staff began working to determine why previous sampling results suggested adequate Chlorine and now it appeared low.
On the evening of August 25, DHH was notified that total Chlorine levels at the Lions Water Plant were increased to 1.9 mg/l and additional sampling would be coordinated between DHH, Utilities staff and the Parish consultant.
On August 27 at approximately 3:15 p.m., a conference call was conducted with DHH, Utilities Staff, Public Safety and Communications to discuss Water District #1. We were informed that lab results received THAT DAY, revealed the detection of the Naegleria fowleria ameba in the sample collected near the Noranda Aluminum Plant on August 12. According to DHH, the delay in notification was related to the time required to complete the test.
DHH provided specific information about the ameba, associated risks, Chlorine deficiencies, corrective protocol, and public notice requirements. Council members, other parish officials and residents were notified through the mass notification system and precautions were added to all parish communication outlets.
Meetings were held with Council members to discuss the emergency and the tentative plan of action. All Council members did not attend and some have still not sought factual information. Information was sent to all media outlets, a press conference held, FAQ sheets distributed, informational flyers hand delivered to the impacted areas, as well as churches, schools, libraries and other public buildings.
Contact was made with the hospital to determine if any medical reports related to the emergency were made - there were none. Residents in LaPlace and on the West Bank were informed that their water was not affected by the Emergency Order. The EOC was staffed to address questions from residents and a cable override was conducted.
On August 28, the Chlorine Burn was initiated at 7:00 a.m. to increase Chlorine levels to 1.0 mg/l throughout the system. Residents were informed that they may notice a change in the taste, smell, and color of the water, but it was safe for consumption. According to information from the Department of Health & Hospitals (DHH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the water remains safe for drinking, bathing and cooking, but residents should avoid getting it deep into the nasal passage.
Phone calls and meetings were held with schools and industry to provide additional information regarding risks and precautions.
On Tuesday, September 2, I was informed by Dr. Guidry that his office was pleased with the quick actions taken by the parish and committed the assistance of his office throughout the process. He also informed me that State Police would be conducting an investigation into the reporting inconsistencies submitted by Parish employees.
On the morning of September 3, interviews began with employees and supervisors responsible for water treatment, water sampling and compliance reporting. State Police are no longer labeling this a "criminal investigation", but are reviewing the information as requested by DHH to determine the cause of the discrepancies.
This investigation, as well as an internal investigation are ongoing, but are secondary to correcting the Chlorine deficiency and eliminating all risks to our residents. A corrective action plan has been submitted to DHH for approval and will be implemented at the Department level, with oversight by 3rd party consultants. Despite concerns about increased THMs and other by-products, utilities staff have been directed to increase the Chlorine levels in all systems to meet or exceed the Emergency Rule.
The following is a summary of actions taken thus far:
· Residents initially notified of the emergency and recommended precautions on August 27
· Chlorine Burn initiated at 7:00 a.m. on August 28
· Daily samples collected and checked by 3rd party - ongoing
· Previous samples submitted to DHH reviewed for inconsistencies
· State Police investigation initiated on September 3 - ongoing
· Internal investigation initiated on September 4 - ongoing
· Water lines and fountains at schools flushed and sampled weekly - ongoing
· 70 sample sites identified and submitted to DHH for approval
· Training conducted for Utilities staff and Fire Services on Chlorine sampling for additional 70 sites
· Flow testing conducted throughout the parish - ongoing
· Additional automatic flushers and sample points installed - ongoing
· Additional testing initiated by 3rd party for long-term compliance
· Chlorine levels increased at Lions Plant – POE: 3.2, MRT: 1.57
· 60 Day Burn Period anticipated to begin Monday, pending DHH approval
· Telephone conversations conducted with Bob Bowcock, Chief Environmental Investigator with Erin Brockovich
· Utility Billing Manager reviewing water bills in impacted areas for adjustments related to emergency
These efforts are ongoing and are being directed by me and the Office of Public Safety. We apologize for all actions or inactions that led to this emergency and the resulting precautions, but we are committed to making sure the water is safe now and in the future. Once again, we caution those with little to no factual information about the emergency from providing false or misleading information to the public.
More information will be provided as it becomes available and copies of these remarks and Facts about the emergency will continue to be provided through the Communications Department.
St. John the Baptist Parish