Texas Gov. Greg Abbott stopped in Lake Jackson Tuesday to see how the city is dealing with its water quality emergency following the death of a child from a brain-eating amoeba.
The governor opened a news conference sending heartfelt thoughts to the family of 6-year-old Josiah McIntyre, who died from contracting the amoeba.
“There are no words that describe the sadness that goes along with the loss of a child,” Abbott said. “The most I could do with his family is to assure them that his life is not lost in vain.”
Multiple agencies are working to help make the water safe, including the EPA, CDC, FEMA, and TCEQ.
Officials said a boil order for Lake Jackson will be in place for two to three weeks as they work on the system.
Abbott explained that water is needed right now, and praised those in the private sector who have worked to provide cases of water to residents.
Officials also stressed they want to get to the bottom of the issue.
“We want to be as open and transparent with the public on finding out how this happened, and solving the problem and correcting the problem,” said Lake Jackson City Manager Modesto Mundo. “I made that commitment two weeks ago with Josiah’s grandmother.”
On Sunday, Abbott issued a disaster declaration for Brazoria County.
Initially, a Do-Not-Use Advisory was issued, but that has since been lifted.
The change comes as state and city officials worked to flush and disinfect the city’s system after tests revealed the possible presence of genetic material related to the amoeba in three water samples.
Out of 56 test sites, 14 also had low chlorine levels, according to Mundo.
“Why was the level low in those spots? We will have to do a complete model of our system to see where the vulnerable points are,” said Mundo, who added that the deadly amoeba could have also gotten in through a cross-connection in the system.
Mundo said the city began a free chlorine conversion late Saturday night that is expected to last 60 days. The system is reportedly required to undergo a full flush, which may cause the water to taste or smell different. The city urges residents to limit water usage for the next two months.
The amoeba was suspected in the local water supply after Josiah died Sept. 8, Mundo said.
Water samples from a water hose bib at McIntyre’s home, the civic center fountain and a fire hydrant tested positive for genetic material related to the amoeba. All locations are within a mile of the little boy’s home. McIntyre played at the civic center fountain in late August before becoming ill, Mundo said. The attraction was closed as a precaution.
The amoeba, known as naegleria fowleri, initially impacted customers of the Brazosport Water Authority. TCEQ later said that Brazosport’s water was safe.
“Brazosport Water Authority provides water to six other cities beyond Lake Jackson and in those communities, the water is safe, drinkable and useable,” explained Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. “In Lake Jackson, they need to follow the recommendations from the city and TCEQ.”
Naegleria fowleri typically affects people when the contaminated water enters their body through their nose, according to the CDC. That’s why it’s important that residents not get water in their noses until the supply is deemed safe. It can be used for cooking, bathing and drinking as long as it’s boiled.
The CDC said people cannot get infected from swallowing water contaminated with Naegleria fowleri.
Symptoms of the illness include headaches, vomiting, fever and becoming disoriented.
Meanwhile, the water quality emergency in Lake Jackson has raised concerns elsewhere.
The City of Houston issued its own statement today explaining that its water system is not contaminated.
The City of Houston’s priority is our customers’ health and safety, and our team is always working to provide the safest possible drinking water to our customers. Reports about drinking water contamination over the weekend are not connected to the City of Houston’s water system. Houston Water meets the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s drinking water requirements, including disinfection requirements designed to ensure safe drinking water free from contaminants, such as the amoeba naegleria fowleri. Houston Water’s approved water treatment processes eliminate 99.9% of giardia and viruses, which ensures that other pathogenic organisms such as naegleria fowleri are also eliminated.