Houston Suburb Under Boil Water Order After Tragic Death of Young Boy

Graphic by Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

By Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

Lake Jackson, Texas, a city in the greater Houston area, is “purg[ing] its water system for 60 days” after a brain-eating amoeba killed a 6-year old boy, NBC News reported. The city is currently under a boil-water notice, and officials have announced that it could take as long as 3 months to make the water safe.  The amoeba moves quickly once it strikes – and the symptoms are much like the flu, with fever and vomiting, but then it moves on to symptoms like neck stiffness and hallucinations. People do not become infected from drinking contaminated water, but rather through ingesting it nasally, and symptoms start 1-9 days (median 5 days) after swimming or other nasal exposure.

Why This Matters: There is little data on the risk of this amoeba, says the CDC. Although “hundreds of millions of visits to swimming venues occur each year in the US,” there are generally 0-8 infections per year. More information is needed on how “a standard might be set to protect human health and how public health officials would measure and enforce such a standard,” so that this kind of public health crisis does not happen again. There are real issues regarding safe and clean water in the U.S. and ours is not as “crystal clear” as the President often claims.

Preventing the Parasite

According to the CDC, the risk of the amoeba is only posed when contaminated water enters your nose. That means that people tend to report infection after swimming and diving. The amoeba can “grow in pipes, hot water heaters, and water systems, including treated public drinking water systems.” Josiah McIntyre tragically died after visiting a public splash pad with infected water.

Texas Moving Forward

To alleviate the risks of more infections, the city is trying to “purge its system of any ‘old water’ so the system can be disinfected and replaced with fresh water,” the AP reported. Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration on Sunday, and the Texas Department of Emergency Management has “been providing free bottled water to Lake Jackson residents.

Other Water Risks in the US

This amoeba is not the only water risk that is found in the United States. In Flint, Michigan, due to “blatant environmental injustice” and racism, lead leaked into the city’s water supply and exposed between 6,000 and 12,000 children to a neurotoxin beginning in 2014. As we reported last year, “Low-income communities like Flint lack the political capital of wealthier communities and thus are routinely neglected and forgotten by lawmakers.” What happened in Flint and what happened in Lake Jackson obviously stem from different underlying contamination. Nevertheless, everyone deserves access to safe and clean water, and we need to ensure that happens across the country from Lake Jackson to Flint.

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