- Associated Press - Monday, October 20, 2014

EDGARD, La. (AP) - A grand jury Monday indicted two workers for failing to properly collect and record samples from testing sites in St. John the Baptist Parish where a brain-eating amoeba was found in the water system.

Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell’s office said Kevin Branch, 54, of LaPlace, and Danielle Roussel, 43, of Paulina, were charged with malfeasance in office and filing or maintaining false public records. Each charge carries up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

The charges stem from allegations the two failed to perform “a duty lawfully required of a public employee in completing necessary water testing” and falsified information on water testing logs they were required to maintain.

State health officials sought the investigation after the Naegleria fowleri amoeba was found in the parish’s water, even though records indicated chlorine levels high enough to kill it. The Department of Health and Hospitals said independent tests found chlorine levels below state standards in a water line serving about 12,500 customers in Garyville, Mt. Airy, Reserve and parts of LaPlace.

The New Orleans Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/10fHCYA ) the amoeba has killed three people in Louisiana since 2011, though none of the deaths was linked to the water supply in St. John. Because Naegleria fowleri cannot be contracted by drinking the water, public health officials have said the parish water supply remains safe to consume. Most people who contract the disease did so after swimming in warm, freshwater bodies of water and ingesting contaminated water through their noses.

As part of their job duties, Caldwell’s office said Branch and Roussel were tasked with collecting water samples from at least two locations, including the Lions Water Treatment Plant in Reserve and an additional site in Mt. Airy, to ensure that the public water contained specific quantities of residual chlorine as required by Louisiana law. The employees were then supposed to record those findings on a daily log, which was to be filed with DHH each month.

According to the indictment, Louisiana State Police determined that Global Positioning Systems attached to the parish vehicles assigned to Branch and Roussel showed that the two did not collect the samples that they attested to. The GPS data showed that on numerous days when the employees alleged to have tested water samples, they were not near the testing sites.

Branch and Roussel were given 24 hours to surrender.

In a written statement, parish President Natalie Robottom said she was disappointed, but would take “all actions necessary to make sure our water is safe and to prevent this from happening again.”

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