Updated, 10:45 a.m.
Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan declared a “state of emergency” Tuesday night after the state warned residents not to drink tap water, saying he hopes that gets the town access to parish and state financial help.
The state Department of Health and Hospitals on Tuesday said town’s privately run Peoples Water Company had failed to report chlorine dioxide levels four to five times EPA guidelines, advising people not to drink the water until further tests can be conducted.
The state agency is conducting tests Wednesday, a spokesman said.
Last night, the town received 15 palates of bottled water from American Spring Water, some of which were distributed at the DPW building across from the Frank Sotile Pavilion at 2175 Thibaut Drive, Sullivan said. Another distribution will take place later today, possibly at South Louisiana Fairgrounds park.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is warning residents of Donaldsonville not to drink or cook with their tap water because of dangerously high chlorine dioxide levels.
A state inspection Sunday of the town’s privately run Peoples Water Company revealed the company failed to report chlorine dioxide levels four to five times EPA guidelines, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the Louisiana State Health Officer, said Tuesday evening.
Exposure to elevated levels of the chemical, which in small quantities is used as a water treatment disinfectant, can cause serious health effects to the nervous systems of some infants, young children and to the fetuses of pregnant women, Guidry said.
However, the DHH notice says adults who are not pregnant and older children with developed nervous systems can drink the tap water.
According to DHH, records examined during an on-site inspection of the Peoples Water Company show that workers for the water system recorded chlorine dioxide levels above the EPA’s drinking water standards during the months of September, October, November, December, January and March.
The company, which serves roughly 10,000 customers in Donaldsonville, didn’t report the test results or collect additional samples for testing, DHH said.
“Today, we were provided with information that is both alarming and confusing,” Guidry said in a statement. “We are concerned that there appears to be elevated levels of chlorine dioxide leaving the plant. But we also have concerns about the testing procedures used by the water system and the overall training of the operators as well as questions about the technology used to conduct the sampling.”
Mayor Leroy Sullivan said Tuesday night, “They don’t know if the levels are actually higher or if there’s something wrong with the calibration.”
Sullivan said he’s waiting on state officials to investigate the situation but that indications the water company hadn’t reported elevated chemical levels were concerning.
“There has to be some accountability for Peoples Water Company,” Sullivan said. “We pay and depend on them for good drinking water. If there’s something wrong with it, we need to be notified.”
Guidry said he was alerted to the situation Tuesday afternoon and issued the order because state officials can’t currently guarantee the water is safe to drink.
Parish President Kenny Matassa said Tuesday evening the parish put out a reverse 911 call to Donaldsonville residents to warn them about the water.
He also said the city and parish are working together to provide drinking water to the residents. “The stores have run out of water, I’m sure,” Matassa said.
Sullivan said a local business donated bottled water for municipal officials to hand out to residents.
“We’re handing out a case of water per family just to get them through tonight,” Sullivan said Tuesday night. “We’re very limited in the amount we have.”
Ascension Parish Schools in Donaldsonville will provide bottled water for students at class Wednesday, the school board announced during its meeting Tuesday.
Beginning Wednesday, state health officials will conduct additional inspections of the water system, including independent testing of the water by another water company that uses the same technology as Peoples Water Company.
The results of the testing and inspection, which will provide more information about chlorine dioxide levels in Donaldsonville’s drinking water, will determine what steps DHH takes next, Guidry said.
Advocate staff writer Ellyn Couvillion contributed to this report.
* This story was updated after publication to correct references to the timing of the water problems discovery.