Last week, the CDC found in preliminary tests that there were indeed traces of a “brain-eating amoeba” in the U.S. National Whitewater Center’s water. The question that remained was what the next step would be.
Friday afternoon, the Center made the call to put a stop to whitewater activities. Land and flat water activities continue to run as normal.
The move was in response to the death of a teen girl from Ohio from complications of a rare infection caused by the amoeba.
Now we have more info. As of yesterday, the Whitewater Center has begun an extensive cleaning process usually reserved for the winter months, when nobody is using the water.
The first step is to drain the water from the top pool, where most of the whitewater resides, into the lower, bigger pool.
Once drained, employees will begin treating the pool with chlorine, pressure washing and warm air, which is crucial since the microorganism can’t survive in sunlight.
It’s a move that the Health Department is calling a “very good first step,” mentioning that that’s as much as the Department has advised them to do, according to a news conference Monday afternoon.
“It allows them to get in right away and clean that part,” Dr. Marcus Plescia, the county’s health director, said. “It seems like an extremely prudent step.”
Despite the step, they are still trying to figure out what to do with the water that has been drained and how to clean the water it’s been drained into. The center is working with the county, state and CDC for guidance when it comes to the next move.
Don’t expect this process to be done anytime soon.
When the pool is cleaned, it often takes anywhere from four to six weeks before it’s done.
“We’re not talking about something changing in a few days here,” Plescia said.
For now, there’s no real timeline to go off of when it comes to the center reopening its whitewater facility. Plescia said he feels “quite certain” that it won’t be reopened until everybody involved feels that it’s the right thing to do.
The health department is still hesitant to blame the Whitewater Center’s filtration system despite never having seen the records, since the Center is independently operated.
Still, it’s believed by the health department that the water truly is filtered and cleaned on a daily basis and that the Center is “conscientious” about it.
“If they weren’t filtering the water,” Plescia explained. “It would become very turbid and unsightly.”
You would know, essentially.
The goal is not to get rid of the amoeba completely, as Plescia believes that that would be impossible to do. Instead, the focus is more on how to reduce the risk so that the public feels safe.
Plescia says that both the county and state are interested in exploring ways to regulate the Whitewater Center so that people feel safe, but want to be realistic in understanding what they can and can’t do.
They can’t, for instance, even test for the amoeba, since the county lacks the capacity to do so and has to rely on the CDC. They’ll also never be able to reassure the public that the organism isn’t in the water.
To him, making people feel safe would involve bringing in a consultant who has worked with the type of water features you see at various amusement parks, because the individual would be experienced in dealing with water that sees high volumes of people come through it daily.
As for changing the regulations around the Whitewater Center, which is an independent entity, Plescia said nobody’s sure what any changes might look like.
“We regulate swimming pools. We know how to do that, that’s a very contained area of water. It’s clear, we know how to get rid of germs and microorganisms,” he explained. “Doing that on the Whitewater Center is a very, very different situation. It’s a different kind of water.”
The turbidity of the water, along with everything that gets mixed in and the sheer complexity of the system, makes it challenging to regulate it in a “meaningful way” to allow the health department to promise that it’s 100% safe to enter.
“That’s challenging, that’s what we’re exploring now.”
There will, however, be some form of oversight and regulation of the Whitewater Center going forward.
“I think that’s unavoidable after a tragedy like this has occurred,” Plescia stated.