By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL – Letters sent to Slidell residents by the Department of Public Operations have raised concerns by some citizens about a new water purification system that will be instituted on April 1.
However, Public Operations Director Gene Swann said the change from chlorine to a product known as chloramines will “ultimately reduce the amount of chlorine we will be putting in the water. It will actually be a better thing.”
For the past five years, state officials have been dealing with several situations involving waterborne diseases in water systems across Louisiana.
The worst public scare came in 2013 and 2014 when Naegleria Fowleri, referred to as a brain-eating amoeba, was detected in several systems across the state.
In St. Bernard Parish the amoeba was detected in 2014, which followed a situation where a 4-year-old Mississippi boy died from the amoeba late in 2013. The amoeba was later detected in Terrebone Parish and DeSoto Parish in Louisiana.
The solution by the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) was to slowly increase the amount of chlorine used in parish systems. Five years ago the requirement was to have 0.2 milligrams of chlorine in the water for every liter, but the concern at the state level about disease in the water has pushed the chlorine to 0.5 milligrams per liter.
Public Operations Assistant Director Donnie Marshall said the Slidell department began to research across the state to find ways to reduce the amount of chlorine and found that many parishes were using a product known as chloramine.
The city of Slidell announced in its letter that it is switching from chlorine to chloramines—a product that is a combination of chlorine and ammonia. Marshall said they have learned the new product will eventually allow them to reduce the amount they are adding to the water since it maintains its effectiveness all the way through pipes until reaching homes or businesses.
The city has received several calls from concerned residents after receiving the letter informing them about the April 1 change. The concern came from information in the letter that said “the change to chloramines can cause problems to persons dependent on dialysis machines.”
Additionally, the letter said that “chloraminated water may be toxic to fish.”
In both cases, Marshall said, the individuals on dialysis machines, or those with fish tanks, need to use some kind of pretreatment system such as a charcoal filter, which will remove the chloramine from the water once it gets to the consumer.
In actuality, the intent of adding chlorine or chloramines to a public drinking supply is to kill any diseases that may be in the water all the way through the pipes. However, by the time the water goes through city pipes and gets to a home the hope is that the diseases have been killed, all while the chlorine or chloramine slowly dissapates.
“By using chloramine it will actually allow us to lower the input into the system and leave residents with a reduced amount of product by the time they get the water,” Marshall explained.
Marshall said the city officials in Public Operations “researched this across the state. We had to go through quite a permitting process with EPA to be approved for chloramines. But there are already a number of parishes in the state that are using it and we feel certain this is a better product to purify our water.”
Marshall said the city has not only sent out letters in the March water bills for all city users, but also contacted medical facilities, dialysis facilities and pet stores to be prepared for the change which will occur on April 1.
“We’re required to give a 14-day notice about this kind of change, but we wanted to allow everyone plenty of time to know about it so we sent the letters in the March bills to give them almost a month,” Marshall added.
The letter did state that if the chloramine is not filtered out through a charcoal filter or similar system “a condition known as hemolytic anemia can occur if the disinfectant is not completely removed from the water.”
Any further questions should be directed to David Adams or Billy Palmisano with the city of Slidell at 985-646-4291.