The Naegleria fowleri amoeba is alive and well in Arabi.
That’s the message that officials with the state Department of Health and Hospitals conveyed late Wednesday after another round of testing confirmed the presence of the rare brain-eating amoeba at three sampling sites for St. Bernard Parish’s water supply.
The amoeba turned up in the recent testing at three locations in Arabi, including 948 Angela St., where it was detected in samples taken last month and announced last week. The other two sampling sites were 701 Lebeau St. and the intersection of Mehle Avenue and Pontalba Street.
“The tests from today were confirmatory,” the health department’s medical director, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, said Wednesday in a prepared statement.
As a precaution after last week’s announcement, the parish said it began boosting chlorine levels in the water system for 60 days — a formula that officials say has been successful at eliminating the amoeba elsewhere.
However, health department spokeswoman Ashley Lewis said chlorine levels at the three sampling sites registered between 0.01 and 0.08 milligram of chlorine per liter of water. Those levels are far below the state’s minimum required chlorine level of 0.5 milligram of chlorine per liter of water.
A person can contract the amoeba only if it enters the body through the nose and is pushed into the brain.
Lewis said the samples were collected last week after the parishwide chlorine burn went into effect. At that point, the extra disinfectant had not reached the expected rate of 1 milligram of chlorine per liter of water in Arabi.
In late 2013, state health officials issued an emergency rule requiring most water systems in Louisiana to maintain a higher level of disinfectant, the first change in required chlorine levels in nearly two decades. Since then, the amoeba also has been detected in treated water in Ascension Parish, St. John the Baptist Parish and DeSoto Parish, in northwest Louisiana.
The latest results in St. Bernard were reported a day after Guidry told a community meeting at Nunez Community College that he was not convinced that the amoeba’s presence in the parish’s water testing stemmed from faulty equipment, as Parish President David Peralta had speculated.
Peralta said last week that the testing equipment on Angela Street was broken, and he said a crack in the pipe where water flows on its way to be tested had allowed stagnant water to accumulate nearby. That likely was where the amoeba seeped into the water through the cracked line, he said.
But Guidry told Tuesday’s meeting that if the water pressure was high enough that the water flowed uninterrupted from the spigot at the testing site, “it’s highly unlikely” that the amoeba had seeped in from the cracked line.
The state had tested the water June 24 as part of a new surveillance system implemented after a young Mississippi boy died in 2013 from contracting the amoeba at a home in Violet.
Peralta said Thursday that he was not surprised by the latest water testing results. Since last week, he said, the parish has flushed fire hydrants in Arabi and elsewhere in order to keep water flowing steadily along the outer edges of its aging pipes.
He said state health officials had asked him to stop flushing the lines last week while the testing was underway. “When they asked us to stop the flushing so they would test,” Peralta said, “I knew this was going to happen.”
“It’s safe,” he said of the water. “I’m not concerned with it.”
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.