Louisiana declares public health emergency in St. Joseph

 Two samples of tap water in St. Joseph have tested positive for elevated levels of lead.

Story highlights

  • State health officials are testing the water in St. Joseph for lead over the next 30 days
  • Residents have been advised not to drink the water or use it for food preparation

(CNN)Each week for months, Janet Thornton has spent $20 to buy drinking water for her husband and herself.

"We don't have a lot of money," she said, "so we just boil the water on the stove for our dogs. No one has told us if that's OK."
    This past spring, the town of St. Joseph was dealing with "not aesthetically pleasing" brown water running through residents' faucets. State health officials said then it was not dangerous.
    Now, a few months later, water in this Louisiana town of about 1,000 shows high amounts of lead in some samples, and it may be dangerous.
    On December 16, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a public health emergency in the town after two of 13 site samples the day before showed elevated levels of lead, which was absent from water samples at the start of the year.
    The Louisiana governor has declared a public health emergency.
    Two other residences had elevated levels of copper, according to a Friday release from the governor's office. "The town of St. Joseph has experienced water problems for years due to the poorly maintained and deteriorating water distribution system. Frequent breaks in the water distribution system provide a potential health risk because of the drop in water pressure," the release added.
    Monday, Edwards visited St. Joseph along with state health officials, urging residents to use bottled water for brushing teeth and food preparation.
    The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is asking people not to drink the tap water for at least 30 days, according to State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry. The state is handing out 3 liters of drinking water per person per day for the next 30 days, he said, as officials attempt to test water from every running water source.
    A bottle left by health officials from Baton Rouge to collect samples sat on her porch Tuesday, Thornton said. She has been told to expect results from the water samples in two to four weeks.
    "Right now, we're buying gallon jugs to wash our hair and using adult washrags to bathe because our water is only good for flushing toilets," Thornton said. But Guidry said he is not worried about the absorption of lead through the skin.
    The water problem is wrapped up in St. Joseph Mayor Edward Brown's troubles.