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Hype artists try to scare Bossier water consumers

So, if you live on the east bank of the Red River in and around Bossier City, instead of taking a shower you should pour bottled water over your head? Listening to some first-class hype artists using second-hand science, you would get that impression.

At the end of last month, state health officials announced that it had found in a system hooked up to Bossier City’s water naegleria fowleri, more popularly known as the brain-eating amoeba. A recommended 0.5 mg/l chlorine level in water systems should prevent its presence, but because of biofilter buildup (essentially, organic slime lining pipes) it can hang around in pipes even with that additive and it was detected in a previously dormant line of the water system in question.

In that case, pursuant to best practices research, a system should have a flush double that level for 60 days, to ensure that all lines, even those the farthest away, receive such water and that it penetrates any biofilter. That Bossier City began doing a few days later.

Yet that’s not good enough for scare-specialist-celebrity Erin Brockovich, who complained this will be too dangerous. Brockovich, who gained notoriety by helping to bilk a California utility out of hundreds of millions of dollars using faulty scientific conclusions and reasoning, and colleague Bob Bowcock said the flush could cause more problems without really making things safe.

Specifically, the disinfection/chlorination process creates trihalomethanes, which by federal law mustn’t stay consistently above 80 parts per billion, and haloacetic acids which mustn’t consistently above 60 PPB. Bossier City succeeded in hitting those benchmarks in 2017, with its highest (of six) TTHM monitoring points recording an average of 39 and for HAA 24.

However, Bowcock in a radio interview faulted these data because they indicated at least once at one station in 2017 Bossier City had exceeded the mark in each instance. And, while it’s true that a number of countries have established lower tolerances of these substances in drinking water, World Health Organization standards essentially recommend much higher levels for safe consumption.

Scientific evidence suggests a relationship between a couple of TTHM compounds and cancer – in animals. Inadequate evidence exists that these cause cancer in humans. Regardless, using the one TTHM compound – bromodichloromethane – which WHO thinks could cause human cancer at the level it thinks could cause one additional death out of 100,000 people over 70 years (assuming consumption of 2 liters of water daily, whether intentionally, over that lifetime), it said would come at a level of 60 (the federal standard of 80 doesn’t differentiate among different compounds).

Lowering the standard without increasingly significantly the odds of water-borne disease would require much more expensive methods such as alternative disinfection and filtration. And, as the data show, that would lower insignificantly the cancer rate – if there’s any connection at all; recall that insufficient evidence exists to show that in humans.

Doubling the chlorine also poses no risk. In the interview, Bowcock claimed harmful effects from excessive chlorine, particularly from pregnant women in gas that may emanate from faucets. In fact, chlorine is not a carcinogenic and only in concentrations well above 1 mg/l may it cause respiratory problems in humans over the long term – but typically because the environment, such as a pool, doesn’t have an adequate balance of chlorine. In short, extremely brief inhalation of relatively low intensity chlorine won’t do any harm – and there are no adverse health effects for the unborn from their mothers swimming in chlorinated pools.

Recognize that Brockovich makes a living – charging as much as $50,000 an appearance – off of hyping problems. She (with Bowcock in tow) has a history of linking scary rhetoric about water quality with paid speaking gigs. Now we’ll see if she can frighten enough people in Bossier Parish to invite her to interject herself more into the controversy, if not leading to emoluments of some kind or at least free publicity to leverage the same elsewhere.

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