Whitewater Center: Algae weakened defense against illnesses


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The U.S. National Whitewater Center acknowledges that algae in its artificial whitewater course weakened the effectiveness of its filters to disinfect waterborne illnesses, such as a brain-eating amoeba that was fatal to one visitor.

The center’s response to questions submitted by The Charlotte Observer (http://bit.ly/29AUp0O) comes about one month after Ohio teenager Lauren Seitz contracted a brain-eating amoeba and died after rafting there.

At the time, officials at the center said its disinfectant system was “99.99” percent effective against the organism.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that the park’s filtration and disinfection systems were inadequate to neutralize the Naegleri fowleri amoeba that infected and killed 18-year-old Laura Seitz, who had rafted at the center.

New details released by the CDC this week show the center’s water did not contain sufficient chlorine for disinfection to prevent water-borne illnesses. The sample found 13 times more particles such as algae and sediment than a properly chlorinated recreational waters should have, the agency said.

Cloudiness in water, sometimes called turbidity, rendered the park’s disinfection system less effective, the CDC said.

Park spokesman Eric Osterhus said authorities are asking water quality experts how to contain algae that built up in the water channels. Osterhus said algae is generally not unsafe, but does create an environment that allows organic matter to grow and avoid the existing disinfection systems.

Asked if there was anything the center could have done to avoid Seitz’s death, Osterhus said that “all decisions involving operational matters are made in a careful and deliberative manner.”

The Whitewater Center did not make Chief Executive Officer Jeff Wise available for an interview.

In prepared statements, Wise has said that Seitz’s death is tragic but participating in Whitewater Center activities come with some inherent risks.

“Despite every measure we take, there is always a risk of injury or harm based on the very nature of what we do and who we are,” Wise said in a June 22 statement.

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Information from: The Charlotte Observer, http://www.charlotteobserver.com

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