The N.C. House voted Tuesday to include facilities such as the U.S. National Whitewater Center under regulations for public swimming pools, including water quality and testing.
The legislation follows the June 19 death of an Ohio teenager who contracted a rare brain infection after visiting the center. Park officials suspended its whitewater activities indefinitely Friday, saying water tests detected the amoeba that caused her infection.
Lawmakers’ swift action also comes after an Observer report Sunday that revealed the Whitewater Center is one of only three similar parks nationwide that is not regulated to help prevent waterborne illnesses.
Mecklenburg County tests the water in public pools, including parks and apartment complexes, once a year for pH and disinfectant levels. State regulations require public pool owners to test pH and chlorine levels daily.
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But no such standards exist for the Whitewater Center, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people a year to concrete channels that recirculate 12 million gallons of water for rafting and kayaking.
“This is a classic example of where new technology outpaces laws that preceded it,” said state Sen. Joel Ford, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. “When this law was passed, there was no Whitewater Center.”
House Bill 1074, which contains amendments related to the Whitewater Center, still must pass the Senate, but Ford said he has received assurances from legislative leaders the proposed law will pass.
The bill would require the center and other water recreation attractions to obtain permits from the state Department of Health and Human Services and face regulation from the Commission for Public Health, which enforces state rules for water quality and testing.
State leaders would also appoint a committee to make recommendations for required testing for the presence of physical, biological and chemical substances.
State Rep. Bill Brawley, a Mecklenburg County Republican, proposed the legislation. He could not be reached for comment.
Lauren Seitz, 18, died of a rare brain infection caused by the amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, after visiting the center on June 8. Seitz was in a raft that overturned. Infections can occur when water goes up the nose.
As of now, the center’s sole water-testing obligation is written into its lease with Mecklenburg County for its 1,100-acre site on the Catawba River. The lease agreement requires that the center test its water once a week for fecal coliform, a widely used indicator of disease-carrying organisms.
Results are analyzed by an independent lab, and any high readings are supposed to be reported to the county.
Mecklenburg County officials have acknowledged that more regulation is needed.
“There is a hole in the law,” county commissioner Bill James said. “There are no standards for how many amoeba can be allowed. The government has no rules in place for this.”
Clasen-Kelly: 704 358-5027