The N.C. House of Representatives stepped into the conversation about what should be done with the U.S. National Whitewater Center on Tuesday — about a week after a teenager died from a rare infection soon after visiting.
Essentially, what the House wants is for the state public health agency to come up with new rules and regulations to govern how the Whitewater Center treats and tests its water. It’s unclear, however, whether this would be in any way effective.
If you need to catch up on the story, here’s the quick summary.
Earlier this month, an 18-year-old girl from Ohio visited the Whitewater Center as part of a church trip. Several days later, she died from meningitis brought on by an infection from what’s known as the “brain-eating amoeba” — Naegleria fowleri.
The organism is found in most warm bodies of water but infections are incredibly rare. There have been 37 reported cases in the last 10 years, compared with countless millions of people who have played in water.
The CDC was brought in to test the water at the Whitewater Center and found evidence of the amoeba. The Whitewater Center decided to close down the whitewater area until they could figure out what to do.
They ultimately decided to drain the water and do a deep cleaning.
Why is the state involved?
Since places like the Whitewater Center are so unusual, there are not a laws that govern how the water is inspected and treated. It’s not like a swimming pool, which has a strict set of protocols and inspections that it goes through. But it’s also not as contained and easy to manage as a pool.
However, the Whitewater Center has a pretty sophisticated water purification system and the center has done weekly tests in conjunction with Mecklenburg County.
Some people have been asking what kind of oversight the Whitewater Center has and have called for the state to step in.
So what exactly did the state House do?
They passed an amendment that specifically adds the Whitewater Center to the list of entities regulated by the Commission for Public Health.
It would require the Whitewater Center to “test for physical, biological, or chemical substances in the water” and calls on the Commission for Public Health to come up with temporary rules “as soon as practicable.”
It appears that the bill would also allow the state and/or county to order the Whitewater Center to shut down.
What chances does this have of passing?
Pretty good. Gov. Pat McCrory has called for an overview of how the Whitewater Center is regulated, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Would this make anyone safer?
As it stands now, the state doesn’t have the ability to test for this amoeba. That’s why the federal CDC was brought in.
Dr. Marcus Plescia, the county’s health director, has repeatedly said that even with testing, it’s not likely that the risk of this infection would be brought to zero.
What does the Whitewater Center say?
The center did not respond directly to the state House’s action. But in a statement released Tuesday, the Whitewater Center said “any decisions regarding regulating the whitewater system for water quality is and always has been solely a decision for the government.”
But they said “we do not want to set an expectation that the risks associated with this organism will be eliminated.”