When your drinking water is “safe to drink” but could still kill you. How would you react if I told you that your drinking water is safe to drink but could still kill you if it goes up your nose? If you are like me, you would simply refuse to drink the water.
While this scenario might seem unrealistic, this is very real for the residents of two parishes in Louisiana. Indeed, “health officials confirmed the presence of Naegleria fowleri, commonly
known as the brain-eating amoeba, in Ouachita Parish’s North Monroe water system and Terrebonne Parish’s Schriever water system during routine testing.” According to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, the bacteria “usually infects people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose. Once the ameba enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes” a fatal infection.
While according to health officials the water is still safe to drink, they also “urged residents to avoid getting water in their noses, which is how the organism can infect the brain.” While this might seem easy to do, an “accident” could still happen very quickly, especially while taking a shower. In fact, it is almost impossible to prevent any water from getting up your nose while taking a shower. This water-contamination serves as a stark reminder for all of us that access to clean and safe water is too often taken for granted. As demonstrated in these two Louisiana parishes, water that we think is safe can all too easily become a serious health risk.
Thankfully, the health officials quick response prevented the spread of the bacterial infection in Louisiana. However, this should serve as a reminder to our governments of the importance of routinely testing the water quality of our drinking water sources of drinking water. Prevention is the key. Potential catastrophes can be easily prevented by simply periodically testing our water systems and immediately letting the population know about any potential health threats.
The case of a small Canadian town, Walkerton, Ontario, is a good example of what can happen when regular tests are not conducted. In May 2000, the small town “saw 2,300 people fall ill, and seven die, after breakdowns in the local water system. The region's public health officer later said the catastrophe was probably preventable.” 4 It was later found that these deaths resulted from inadequate water quality monitoring and a lack of transparency.
Bottom line: prevention is key when it comes to protecting the health and well-being of communities.