Water samples taken at areas that draw their water from the Toledo Bend Reservoir were sent Monday by the Department of Health and Hospitals’ Office of Public Health to a Colorado lab, where they will be tested for possible health hazards from space shuttle debris.
Five Louisiana drinking water systems – South Toledo Bend, Pendleton, Many, Mansfield and Logansport – draw water directly from Toledo Bend reservoir. Office of Public Health representatives took samples from four of these systems, as well as from two other systems, the Houston River Water System and Rapides Parish Water Works District #3, both of which are surface water systems. The samples were sent to Severn Trent Laboratories-Denver in Arvada, Colorado for testing. The samples were shipped Monday evening and Tuesday morning.
OPH representatives were unable to obtain samples from Many, La. because the town shut down its surface water intake after particles from the space shuttle fell into Toledo Bend. Many Mayor Ken Freeman ordered the town to use public wells as its water source and said he will not resume using surface water from Toledo Bend until he receives assurance from LDH that the water is safe. Because treated surface water was not available when OPH staff arrived to collect samples, they elected not to take a sample because it would not be representative of Toledo Bend water.
In addition, LDH learned Tuesday that its procedure for taking water samples is not the same as those used by the Environmental Protection Agency when testing for chemical compounds. EPA has now requested that LDH take additional samples to accommodate expanded EPA testing. EPA also alerted LDH that tests will be conducted to analyze the water for lithium, ammonia, alkalinity and methanol. LDH had been told earlier that EPA’s analysis would only be done for hydrazine.
LDH officials have no word yet on how long the tests will take or when they expect to see the results.
Initial reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services, NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency, said debris from Columbia should not pose a health hazard to residents of areas where wreckage landed. Any toxic chemicals present at the end of Columbia’s voyage probably would not remain intact during reentry and the 40-mile fall, according to these reports.
The shuttle broke apart over east Texas Saturday morning, scattering debris throughout that area and parts of Louisiana. As of Tuesday, the Louisiana State Police reported finding 85 pieces of debris in 20 Louisiana parishes, according to the Associated Press. Passers-by in the Toledo Bend area reported seeing pieces of Columbia plummet into the water. Divers still are searching the reservoir for wreckage.
Once LDH receives the water testing results, department representatives will make those results public. For more information, please visit the OPH Website, http://oph.dhh.state.la.us.