LAKE JACKSON — The city’s boil-water notice could last two to three weeks, but the chances of an amoeba in city water infecting or killing another person are “zero,” said officials sitting alongside Gov. Greg Abbott at Brazosport College on Tuesday.
“The concern about this being replicated is minimal,” Abbott said.
There is not going to be a chance the water will contain the amoeba in the public water system after the remediation efforts that have begun, said Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner.
It is likely 6-year-old Josiah McIntyre contracted Naegleria fowleri from the splash pad fountain behind the Lake Jackson Civic Center, Abbott said. That splash pad has been closed since Sept. 8, the same day Josiah succumbed to the infection of the brain-eating amoeba which has a fatality rate greater than 95 percent once contracted.
Abbott expressed condolences for Josiah’s family, who he visited with before the press conference.
“It is with a tremendous sense of sadness that I am here today,” Abbott said. “One of the hardest things that exists in life is for a parent to lose a child.”
He and other officials, including Sen. Joan Huffman, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Executive Director Toby Baker and Texas Department of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd, said Lake Jackson has the state’s full support as it identifies and solves the problem in its water.
“You can’t bring Josiah back,” Bonnen said. “But you can let his family know you love him and you support him. His loss, their loss, will not be in vain.”
It has not been determined how the amoeba came to be in city water.
“This amoeba is present in many, many places of the environment,” Hellerstedt said. “Even though it is in many, many places in Texas, in bodies of water that people swim in and have recreation in, but we see so few cases, that tells you that the mechanism of getting infected … is extremely usual and extremely rare, and difficult. This is a terrible tragedy that made something that was rare, and even vanishingly rare, actually happen.”
This is the first time the amoeba has shown up in a public drinking water system in Texas, Baker said.
“The path forward for the citizens of Lake Jackson is not going to be one that’s short,” he said. “We have to get through the boil water notice first, which could take two to three weeks. After that, we have to get chlorine levels to a state that can burn the entire system, scour the system and kill the amoebas. That could take up to an additional 60 days.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will do testing afterward to make sure the problem is solved, Baker said. TCEQ will help with cross-connection surveys to see if there are any places where unfiltered water is entering the water system, Baker said.
“We will continue to work with the city, with local leaders, and we will do everything possible to get the citizens of Lake Jackson back in a state where they can trust the water that they’re drinking, they can trust their system,” he said. “You have our full commitment to help do that.”
Lake Jackson found out about the three sites that tested preliminarily positive for the initial genetic material for Naegleria fowleri Friday, more than two weeks after Josiah’s death. When asked why it took so long to inform the public, City Manager Modesto Mundo said the possibility of the amoeba’s presence was discovered along with the positive test results.
“When we were notified by the county, working with the CDC, that there was a possibility of Josiah playing with the fountain, we shut it down immediately, but we had not had the ability to test,” Mundo said. “Our initial tests … we conducted it on the 10th and on the 14th it came back negative. We were still working with the CDC and the state to do secondary testing that was much better testing than the initial one.”
The city got the results at the same time as the department of state health services and CDC, which began the chain reaction of notifying everyone, Mundo said. The city promised Josiah’s family to be transparent and find a solution, he said.
Baker again assured Brazosport Water Authority customers there is nothing wrong with the water it distributes, but the problem is isolated to Lake Jackson.