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Charlotte Area

Whitewater Center Plans To Reopen With More Effective Chlorination

empty_whitewater.jpg
Michael Tomsic
/
The empty whitewater channel after the center closed it down.

The U.S. National Whitewater Center plans to reopen its rafting channel this week. It’s been closed for more than a month, after a young woman died of an extremely rare brain infection after rafting there. County health leaders say the center has a new treatment system to address the microorganism that likely caused the woman’s death.

The organism is best known as the “brain-eating ameba.” It’s a scary name for what’s actually a common organism in warm bodies of water like lakes and rivers. In rare cases, it can cause a deadly brain infection.

The Whitewater Center had been treating its water with UV radiation, a filtration system and some chlorine. But county Health Director Dr. Marcus Plescia says the churning water posed a challenge.

“Sometimes the sediment or what’s in the water can absorb some of the chlorine,” he says.

Plescia says the center has installed a new system that will more effectively chlorinate the water. That’s in addition to the old treatment method.  

Environmental Program Manager Lisa Corbitt and others from the county will monitor it once a week for the rest of this month.

“The idea is you put chlorine in, once the pumps run and you go through a complete cycle, are you able to maintain that chlorine?” she says.

If so, county staff will scale down to biweekly visits and then monthly checks.

Plescia has called the ameba ubiquitous and says there’s no guarantee it won’t get back in the water, for example through runoff. But he says the additional emphasis on chlorine should prevent it from living there.

“Chlorine is an age-old mechanism we use to sanitize things,” he says. “It works very well. We know how to work with it, so I feel quite confident that the chlorine levels we’ll try to achieve there will kill it.”

For some context, he points out people are much more likely to die from drowning in area lakes and rivers than from the brain infection.

The CDC reports over the last decade, an average of fewer than four people per year have acquired that infection in all of the United States.