Lake Jackson investigating possible weak spots; BWA assures users its water is safe
Lake Jackson will likely remain under a boil water notice for about a week and residents should continue to avoid getting water in their noses, but the rest of Brazosport Water Authority’s customers should be assured they have nothing to worry about, officials said.
Friday night was the first time Speaker Dennis Bonnen or anyone from Brazosport Water Authority heard about the state testing for Naegleria fowleri within Lake Jackson’s water system.
That was the same day the city received results from the state indicating three of 11 samples taken across its water system showed initial genetic material for naegleria fowleri, a rare brain-eating amoeba, including one from a hose at the home of a boy who died this month, Lake Jackson City Manager Modesto Mundo said.
The city and county health department knew about the boy’s diagnosis and death two weeks earlier. Josiah McIntyre, 6, died Sept. 8.
Josiah’s family indicated two potential Lake Jackson places where he could’ve become infected — the Lake Jackson Civic Center fountain splash pad and a hose at the family’s house, Mundo said. To become infected, the amoeba has to enter the nose then travel to the brain
The city closed the splash pad Sept. 8 and got a 5-gallon water sample taken to be tested by a private lab two days later, on Sept. 10. The results came back negative Sept. 14, and the city shared the information with the county health department, which then scheduled a meeting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The private lab did a “high-level test,” which is all the city could find to do privately, Mundo said.
The CDC wanted to do more sensitive testing and sent in the Texas Department of Health Services Services to collect samples Sept. 22. The three samples came back with positive results Friday.
The results were revealed on a conference call with the city, CDC, county health department and Texas Department of State Health Services. There were also conversations with Bonnen and other high-ranking officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott’s chief of staff, who was misinformed to believe a child died that same day, Bonnen said during a press conference Monday at Brazosport Water Authority.
“There was confusion … I was told that a young boy had died Friday, by the governor’s office, that’s what they’d been told,” Bonnen said. “And I thought we had now lost a second young person in our community.”
Bonnen got Ronnie Woodruff, BWA’s general manager, on the phone to tell him the governor’s office and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality needed to speak to him about the test results, Bonnen said.
TCEQ is the regulatory authority for municipal water systems. Mundo does not know if TCEQ knew about the city’s testing before the returned results Friday, he said. TCEQ did not respond to questions sent Monday.
“Immediately, Brazosport Water Authority … in an abundance of caution, they issued the do-not-use to all the communities they serve,” Bonnen said. “Because their first priority was safety.”
Brazosport Water Authority issued that notice at 10 p.m. Friday, which lasted 12 hours as TCEQ came to BWA and did a thorough review of the facility and treatment techniques, Woodruff said.
“We had learned by Saturday morning that the Brazosport Water Authority never was an issue with Josiah’s passing or an issue of water quality,” Bonnen said. “Their water is safe — it was safe then and it was safe today.”
BWA officials deserve to be commended for taking action and prioritizing safety instead of explaining they weren’t the problem, Bonnen said.
“It’s our system, it’s not BWA as a supplier,” Mundo said. “This pertains to the Lake Jackson system. Somewhere there may be vulnerable points.”
TESTING AND TREATMENT
TCEQ tested 56 locations throughout Lake Jackson for chlorine residuals Saturday and found 14 were not meeting standards, Mundo said. That is what triggered the boil water notice — not the amoeba, he said.
The city regularly completes that chlorine residual testing, and this is the first time many locations have come back not meeting the standard, Mundo said, adding sometimes one line needs to be adjusted.
That leads city officials to believe there could be a vulnerability in the system which happened recently. That could be from irrigation, a fountain or any number of things, Mundo said.
The testing and investigation done Saturday allowed TCEQ to determine there is enough chlorine in the system to fight the amoeba, water was safe to use with a boil water notice in place and residents should still avoid getting the water up their noses.
The boil water notice will last about a week at most, Mundo said. The focus right now is to get out all the old water and complete the chlorine conversion process, to get off the boil water notice as quickly as possible, he said.
The genetic material for Naegleria fowleri was found in a hose bib at Josiah’s house, in a storage tank below the splash pad and in a fire hydrant.
The chlorine was high enough at the fire hydrant that an amoeba could not grow there, and the chlorine was also higher than the minimum at the hose bib, Mundo said. It was not high enough at the splash pad, but that could be explained by the fact the city shut it off and it has not had water flow through it since Sept. 8.
The CDC is continuing testing to see whether the amoeba will grow from the three preliminary positive genetic material samples, Mundo said.
The chlorine conversion process is something the city does twice a year — most recently in June and it was planned again for November — but it usually lasts two weeks, not 60 days, Mundo said. They’re utilizing other agency’s help, especially from Pearland, he said.
“It’s now a 24-hour operation,” he said.
The long-term plan is to investigate the city’s water system and find any vulnerabilities, since they still do not know how the amoeba could get into the system, Mundo said. That could take “days or months,” he said.
TCEQ recommends residents do not allow water to go up their noses or sniff water into their nose when bathing, showering, washing your face, or swimming.
“Do not jump into or put your head under bathing water,” a notice from TCEQ said. “Do not allow children to play with hoses, sprinklers, or any toy or device that may accidentally squirt water up the nose.”
Lake Jackson will continue to give out one case of water per vehicle per day for residents who visit the point of distribution, which is changing locations today. It will be open at 8 a.m. at the Recreation Center, 91 Lake Road.