Ohio Teen Dies from Infection at Water Park

CNN reported on July 3rd that an Ohio teen died due to infection by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri. He was exposed to the pathogen at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the infection was probably caused by the failure of the water sanitation system. All samples taken from the whitewater area of the park tested positive for the organism.

CDC believes that the amoeba was able to grow to high concentrations because of the amount of dirt and debris in the water, which turned the water “turbid” or murky and interfered with the effectiveness of the sanitation process. The sanitation process used both UV light and chlorine. Both would be adversely effected by high levels of turbidity and suspended solids.

It’s one of only three such systems in the United States that are not required to be regularly tested for pathogens. According to local health officials, that’s because it’s viewed as more of a river, even though the park is made of concrete channels that recirculate 12 million gallons of water from the city’s municipal water system.

The article goes on to state that there will be “challenging discussions” with experts to determine the best way to deal with the situation, including how to remediate the existing facility. I think this part should have gone without saying.

Being involved in the supply of equipment for sanitation of water, this tragedy brings home the diligence those of us in this industry must bring to our jobs. It also means educating our clients that instrumentation and testing are an important part of any water treatment process, especially where human health is at stake. It was convenient to say that this park was just like a river and thus did not require the type of controls that a normal water park would employ. That is the easy way out. It leaves public health officials, engineers and owners off the hook.

So, when you are working on a water project that involves human exposure to water, take the time to explain to the client, if they have not already considered it, to make sure they put in place the proper instrumentation and testing protocols. In this case, even a simple on line UVT monitor would have alerted operators to the failure of the UV system and perhaps prompted testing for pathogens.