Boy Dies of Deadly Parasite Found in Tap Water—How Clean is Yours?

Wednesday Nov 20 | BY |
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Tap Water

The CDC recently found a deadly amoeba in the water supply of a Louisiana town.

The “Naegleria fowleri amoeba” is a parasite—a particularly dangerous one. If it gets inside you, it can cause primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue.

This parasite killed a four-year-old boy earlier this year (2013). Soon after, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found the amoeba living in the water supply in the Louisiana town in which the boy lived.

The news makes you stop and wonder—just how clean is your tap water?

Deadly Parasite Found in Community Water

The Naegleria is typically found in warm freshwater, where it can be inhaled through the nose. People usually are exposed when swimming in freshwater lakes and rivers. The boy who was killed, however, was playing on a back yard slip ’n slide when he was infected.

Officials tested the town’s water supply and found that it contained the amoeba. Apparently the boy was exposed when the slip ’n slide was sprayed down with a hose containing city water. Officials immediately started flushing it out with chlorine to kill the pathogens.

“We have never seen Naegleria colonizing a treated water supply before,” said Dr. Michael Beach, head of water safety for the CDC.

The town of St. Bernard, where the boy was infected, takes water from the Mississippi River and cleans it up for people to use. Scientists theorize the water used on the toy was far from the plant, and more likely to have low levels of disinfectant that allowed the parasite to survive.

Water System Deficiencies to Blame?

In the September 6, 2013, issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the organization noted that sanitation and water management in the U.S. has improved, but that potentially preventable outbreaks of drinking-water-associated disease, sometimes fatal, still occur. Between 2009 and 2010, there were 33 outbreaks that caused 1,040 illnesses and resulted in 85 hospitalizations and nine deaths. The deaths were all associated with Legionella, a bacterium that causes legionnaires’ disease. Other types of bacteria caused the other illnesses, including acute gastrointestinal illness.

States that reported drinking water-related outbreaks included California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Vermont. The majority of the outbreaks and outbreak-associated illnesses were linked to community water systems, with most of these occurring in systems that used ground water sources.

The CDC added that they found deficiencies in most of the water systems affected, including contamination of the ground water at the source, and distribution system deficiencies.

Tap Water in Schools Contaminated

In 2009, an Associated Press investigation found that lead, pesticides, and dozens of other toxins had surfaced at public and private schools in all 50 states. Roughly one of every five schools with its own water supply from a well violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in the past decade, with some schools in California so tainted with pesticides that students were taking bottled water to school to avoid getting sick from the drinking fountains.

The AP study also found the following:

  • Water in about 100 school districts and 2,250 schools breached federal safety standards.
  • In 2008, the EPA recorded 577 violations, up from 59 in 1998.
  • The most frequently cited contaminant was coliform bacteria, followed by lead and copper, arsenic and nitrates.

Gina Solomon, a San Francisco physician who serves on an EPA drinking water advisory board, noted this was probably only the tip of the iceberg, and that there exists a widespread problem in water quality.

EWG Finds More Toxins

December 2010, laboratory tests by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found hexavalent chromium (chromium VI)—the same carcinogenic chemical at issue in the movie, Erin Brockovich—in the tap water of 31 of 35 American cities. The highest levels were in Norman, Oklahoma; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, California. Water samples from a total of 25 cities contained the metal at concentrations above the safe maximum recently proposed by California regulators.

The National Toxicology Program has concluded that chromium-6 is carcinogenic in animals, raising the risk of gastrointestinal tumors. A review by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also stated that the chemical in tap water is likely to be carcinogenic in humans.

In a more recent study, the results of which were published February 2013, the EWG again found toxins in tap water. This time, they looked at 2,011 water quality tests for over 200 municipal water systems that affect 100 million people in 43 states. They then published an analysis finding that all the systems had water polluted with chemicals called “trihalomethanes (THM)”—caused when chlorine, which is used as a common disinfectant, mingles with rotting organic matter such as farm runoff or sewage.

According to West Virginia University, THMs are byproducts that may pose an increased risk of cancer. They add that a California study indicated THMs may be responsible for reproductive problems and miscarriage, and that they have also been linked to bladder cancer, as well as heart, lung, kidney, liver, and central nervous system damage.

What Can You Do?

The EWG notes that only the municipal system of Davenport, Iowa showed levels of THMs that exceeded the limit set by the EPA in 1998 of 80 parts per billion, but that multiple studies show an increased risk of cancer caused by much lower levels.

“New science makes a compelling case for stronger regulations and a stricter legal limit,” said Renee Sharp, a senior scientists at EWG and co-author of the analysis. She added that most water systems fluctuate in contamination levels from month to month. They recommend, among other steps, that Congress allocate significant money to help repair and upgrade the nation’s water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, how can you protect yourself and your family from toxins in your water? Try these tips:

  • Buy an effective water filter. Look for either a carbon tap-mounted filter or pitcher, or a reverse osmosis filter.
  • EWG research shows that pitcher and faucet-mounted systems are typically the most economical.
  • Change the filter according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Be sure to do your research—not all activated carbon systems remove water treatment contaminants. Check out the EWG’s “Water Filter Buying Guide” for more guidance.
  • For sensitive individuals, consider buying a whole-house filtration system. Some studies show that bathing and showering can also be routes of exposure for THMs and may contribute more to total exposure than drinking water.

How do you ensure that the water you drink is safe? Please let us know.

* * *

Gillian Mohney, “Brain-Eating Amoeba Kills 4-Year-Old Boy,” ABC News, September 13, 2013,

Maggie Fox, “Deadly brain amoeba infects U.S. tap water for the first time,” NBC News, September 16, 2013,

“CDC: U.S. Drinking Water Sanitation Still Concerning,” MPR, September 6, 2013,

Lisa Esposito, “U.S. Drinking Water Sanitation Still a Concern: CDC,” Emergence Health Network, September 5, 2013,

“Surveillance for Waterborne Disease Outbreaks Associated with Drinking Water and Other Nonrecreational Water—United States, 2009-2010,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, September 6, 2013,

“Chromium-6 in U.S. Tap Water,” EWG, December 20, 2010,

Andrea Germanos, “Study: Over 100 Million Americans Drinking ‘Toxic Trash’ Water,” Common Dreams, February 27, 2013,

“Water Treatmnet Contaminants: Forgotten Toxics in American Water,” Environmental Working Group, February 2013,

Babu Srinivas Madabhushi, “What are trihalomethanes?” On Tap, Spring 1999,

“Study: Unsafe Toxins Found in Drinking Water at Thousands of U.S. Schools,” Fox News, September 25, 2009,

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.


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  1. Nancy says:

    Get a Rife machine so you can clean out any parasites you already have inside and protect your health from any new ones!

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