POSTED: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 - 11:34am
UPDATED: Thursday, March 31, 2011 - 11:38am
St. Landry Parish, La — In rural St. Landry Parish, nearly 200 residents are being exposed to dangerous drinking water every day and they worry their health is at risk.
Private wells there are testing positive for arsenic – at up to five times higher levels than the maximum allowed by the EPA. NBC 33 is investigating.
Paul Burleigh’s water tops three times the safe limit. He tested his well after a neighbor was diagnosed with arsenic poisoning and was told the toxin could be coming from the water. “Everybody was shocked,” he said. Burleigh passed out test kits to the rest of his neighbors, and contacted every elected official in the state from the Governor down to the local Police Jurors.
But June Avila says, even as the tests come back over the limit, getting help is tough. “Everybody on the outside says well, that's terrible, somebody should do something about that,” she said. “But nobody does.”
Avila, Burleigh and their nearly 200 neighbors live along an 11 mile stretch of Highway 105, between Krotz Springs and Melville. But the rural community is not incorporated into either town, leaving the people here with no local government – not even a town name. They say this place feels like a forgotten community, with no voice and little hope for change.
Gwen Dupont has lived there for 22 years, and raised five children on water from her private well. Now she knows that water is laced with arsenic. “It’s like they just they look at our paper work and they put it aside,” says Dupont. “As though we are not humans, as though we're not worth the effort to get us the good city water like those in the towns nearby have.”
The neighbors formed a water board and filed for an emergency grant to build a permanent supply of clean water.
“All we are asking for is one pipe line, water line, to run from Krotz Springs to Melville for fresh water… and that seems like it’s impossible,” says Burleigh.
The USDA ruled their grant ‘"eligible" but it still has to prove feasible. Even with the first hurdle cleared, there’s a bigger battle looming – funding. Right now there’s no money available to fund their grant, and they’ve been told to consider alternatives, like drilling deeper wells.
John Polotzolo drilled a well 180 feet deep when he moved there 24 years ago. “I got the deepest well out here and it still ain’t no good,” says Polotzola. “They are telling me to drill another well. How many wells I got to drill?”
Burleigh agrees, saying “That advice is full of it, because no matter how far down you go, the water's bad.”
Now all they want to know is what it will take to get water free from arsenic.
“We live in the United States of America,” says Faye Hunt. “They go overseas; provide good water to Darfur, to all parts of the world and this little community between Melville and Krotz Springs is begging for clean water.”
Many of the residents say they’re concerned about their health.
“The sicknesses of the grandchildren - my children, my daughter has been very sick,” says Hunt.
“Some have already died,” says Linda Dalcambre. “I can’t say if it was from that, but we're all a fairly low income people out here, hard working people, and we need help.”
Residents tell us they’ve been fighting for bettter water for years, but only tested it for arsenic last month.
Over the weekend, Saint Landry Parish stepped in, delivering two tanks with fresh water to the area. Right now, though, there’s no definite plan for what happens after those tanks run dry.
Wednesday night on NBC 33News at 10pm, we continue our NBC 33 MD investigation. The town doctor says the water is safe to drink, but one of the state’s top toxicologists disagrees. Even the Parish President says people should stop drinking the water now. In part two of our investigative series, we outline the very real risk of having arsenic in drinking water.
“There’s something in the water” airs every night this week, on NBC 33 News at 10pm.