CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The water at a North Carolina whitewater recreation center will be treated with 10 times the amount of chlorine typically needed to kill a brain-eating amoeba to get rid of the microorganism that caused the death of a rafter from Ohio last month, scientists said.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte has permission to begin treating the water whenever it is ready, Mecklenburg County Health Department Director Marcus Plescia said at a news conference Wednesday.
“This is going to be a real jolt of chlorine,” Plescia said.
The center has drained the water from its rapids into a downstream pond to be treated. The center is also digging up the sediment at the bottom of the waterway where the amoeba lives and will spread it in nearby fields to be killed by exposure to sunlight, Plescia said.
The water will be exposed to the high level of chlorine for six hours, then carefully monitored as it flows through a vegetation buffer and into a creek that empties into the Catawba River. The goal is to make sure all the chorine is broken down before the water reaches the river, said Rusty Rozzelle, program manager for Mecklenburg County’s water quality program.
“This water is going to be monitored and tested thoroughly. I don’t know in my 36 years if I’ve known any water body tested this much,” Rozzelle said.
The center shut down its whitewater rafting course after 18-year-old Lauren Seitz of Westerville, Ohio, died last month from an infection caused by the amoeba naturally present in warm fresh water. The organism is not harmful if swallowed, but is often deadly if forced up the nose. The raft Seitz was on with a church group overturned in the river. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said only 10 cases or so are reported each year.
After the water is treated, Plescia said health officials will work with the whitewater center to install a system to control the amoeba and more closely monitor the water quality. But he said that will be a challenge because the 6 million gallons of rushing water on the whitewater course are much more complicated to treat than a swimming pool.
“We have this amoeba in the Catawba River. It lives in places like that. It’s going to be present there,” Plescia said. “What we want is that it is present there in a normal concentration.”