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Yes, Amoebas in Louisiana’s Water Are Claiming Lives, But Chemicals Aren’t the Solution

Yes, Amoebas in Louisiana’s Water Are Claiming Lives, But Chemicals Aren’t the Solution

Clean water is essential for human survival. More than half of our body is made up of water, and without it, we can only live for a couple of days. How much do we really know about what we’re drinking, though?

Local governments are charged with keeping our water supplies safe, but as I recently learned in the movie “Unacceptable Levels,” one city’s wastewater becomes another city’s drinking water. Also, there’s not a lake or stream left in this country that hasn’t been contaminated in some way.

Unfortunately for the people of Louisiana, something even more sinister is lurking in the waterways, and surprisingly, it wasn’t put there by a polluter.

Local officials have confirmed that a deadly, single-celled amoeba called Naegleria fowleri has infiltrated the drinking water system. Only 1/10th the width of a human hair, this organism is virtually invisible, and “does its damage by causing a devastating immune reaction rather than by actually devouring brain tissue,” according to NPR.

Brain infection caused by the amoeba has already claimed the life of 4-year-old child and caused illness in others. In 2011, two adults died after using contaminated water to rinse out their nasal passages via a Neti pot.

CDC naegleriaMicroscopic image of Naegleria fowleri via CDC

As terrifying as it sounds to have brain-seeking amoebas in the water, scientists say drinking it isn’t exactly a death sentence. From NPR:

Naegleria fowleri is only dangerous when it gains entry into the brain. It does that when water containing the amoeba gets inhaled very deeply, into the area where the roof of the nasal passages meets the floor of the brain.

Drinking amoeba-contaminated water poses no risk, presumably because the single-celled organisms can’t survive in stomach acid. Normal bathing or showering isn’t a risk because even if tap water is contaminated, it doesn’t penetrate into the deepest nasal passages.

With that in mind, the tactics being used by local authorities to purge the amoebas from the water appear a bit more questionable: Officials are pumping extra chlorine into the municipal water supply to kill the bugs. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly want to drink overly chlorinated water either.

The entire episode, while no particular person’s fault, is just another example of how we take clean water for granted in this country. We dump absurd amounts of it on our inedible lawns, and even more down the drain. Each year, more of America is swallowed up by drought, and some cities are already starting to run out of water.

As scientists try to figure out how the Naegleria fowleri ended up in Louisiana, I’m left thinking about how long we’ve simply taken what we want from the Earth and dumped onto her what we don’t, without any thought for the consequence to ourselves or the planet.

There will be a point of saturation, at which the planet will have had enough, and we’ll be left with nothing. Soon after, we’ll be gone. The amoebas will probably be alright, though.

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Image: Anita Martinz

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89 comments

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8:31AM PDT on Oct 3, 2013

iam sure glad I read this article ,,,,I could have died from all those "DAYS" I didnt drink water,or ,,,,if I only had an immune sys.. ohhh to dream !

9:13PM PDT on Oct 2, 2013

Fortunately there are good short term solutions to the amoebas. But in the long run, we are killing ourselves with our shortsighted greed.

We must have good drinking water to survive. We must have healthy oceans to survive.

These are among the many reasons that our dependence on fossil fuels is so damaging. Fracking takes clean water and replaces it with hopelessly polluted radioactive water. Oil pipelines, especially those carrying tar sand oils, leak, such as in Arkansas and Kalamazoo, thus polluting our rivers and air. Oil tankers have spills, such as the Valdez. Oil rigs cause catastrophic leaks in the earth's crust, such as the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. These oil tankers and rigs are killing oceans and their inhabitants.

5:10PM PDT on Sep 29, 2013

scary--ty

3:10AM PDT on Sep 28, 2013

TYFS.....wonder how Muslims in that part of the country are dealing with this issue. We have to inhale and expel water from our noses and mouths during our ablutions for prayer every day.

10:34AM PDT on Sep 26, 2013

Scary. Thanks for the info.

9:35PM PDT on Sep 25, 2013

ty

5:44PM PDT on Sep 24, 2013

I would think that these deaths could have been avoided by filtering and boiling the water for the neti pots first. I'd never use plain tap water for neti use anyway!

2:26AM PDT on Sep 24, 2013

Hmmmm! Bottled water depending on which one you buy can be just as bad or worse! I seen a documentary about bottled water and some of these charlatans selling so called spring water or good quality table water are just in fact selling tap water and the bacteria and bugs in some of the bottled stuff would give you a big shock. So one has to try and learn about what's in the bottle before you trust it at face value. Most table waters are indeed tap water. So I don't know what the answer to this is except the water authorities need to be a bit more responsible and look to science to rectify this problem. America is not Africa or is it going to be as soon as all powers that be, have sold their souls to the greedy corporations who are poisoning everything, My goodness who are these people and who are they governing for?
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1:25AM PDT on Sep 24, 2013

This is why I haven't drunk tap water for years.

9:02PM PDT on Sep 23, 2013

thankyou

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