Bill to require testing at Whitewater Center passes House

Lawmakers pass bill that would regulate Whitewater Center
(Dedrick Russell | WBTV)
(Dedrick Russell | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - House Bill 1074, which includes an amendment to require testing at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, passed the NC House Thursday night with a unanimous vote.

Monday, WBTV reported the Whitewater Center reportedly does its own water quality testing, but the center doesn't report to any government agency. The new bill will change that.

Hours earlier, Dr. Jennifer Cope from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said chlorination and UV filtration systems at the Whitewater Center were inadequate to properly filter the facility's turbid waters.

"They were inadequate to inactivate Naeglaria," Cope said. "We do think moving forward that there are ways to make this water less conducive to Naeglaria growth."

The statement was made during a joint press conference with the CDC and Mecklenburg Health officials after test results from the water at the U.S. National Whitewater Center were completed.

Health officials say all eleven samples taken from the Whitewater Center tested positive for the amoeba Naegleria Fowleri. Four samples taken from the nearby Catawba River all tested negative. One sample taken from sediment from Catawba tested positive, as well.

Mecklenburg County Medical Director Dr. Stephen Keener says the whitewater channel at the Whitewater Center is closed. Keener says the CDC, state division of public health and health department are working to determine what preventative measures are necessary for the Whitewater Center.

"This is kind of a unique situation," Keener said. "And there is not a road map."

Keener says the water was drained from the upper pool to the lower pool, and that no water has been drained out of the lower pond. There is an estimated 11 million gallons of water sitting in the lower pool. Ultimately, the county doesn't know where that water will go.

Keener also says cleaning of the pond stopped.

"Until we get some more information about recommendations to the best cleaning methods that would be the safest for the workers, and also whether any special equipment might be needed," Keener said.

Cultures were taken from testing that took place at the Whitewater Center last week. The tests followed news that a teenage girl from Ohio died after contracting a rare infection from an amoeba found in the water.

Mecklenburg County's health director, Dr. Marcus Plescia, who was not part of Thursday's press conference, said he expects there will be major changes at the center following the investigation.

The USNWC temporarily suspended whitewater activities last week after water samples confirmed the presence of the amoeba which is believed to have caused her death.

The whitewater course was expected to remain closed for several weeks for a thorough cleaning, to include draining the water, pressure washing and extra chlorination - but Thursday afternoon Dr. Keener said health officials asked the Whitewater Center to stop the cleaning process until they could gather more information on how to keep employees safe and the proper equipment to clean the system.

Keener also said health officials are working with the center to provide a short list of outside consultants to help determine best practices moving forward to ensure water quality.

The Whitewater Center will be responsible for paying for those experts.

Plescia stressed that the microorganism linked to Lauren Seitz's death is common, but her illness was rare. He said there's no way to completely eradicate the amoeba from bodies of water.

He said testing is complex and the county does not have the capacity to oversee testing at that level.

Local health officials and the CDC say the center provides a unique challenge since it is only one of three centers of its kind in the country and the CDC's experience is "mostly in natural water." Keener said this is "new territory for us," since there is nothing like the whitewater center in North Carolina.

The CDC says it is going to take experts beyond the CDC to help determine the cleanup process.


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