Some Louisiana Water Is So Contaminated That Pastors Are Suspending Baptisms

Lead? Copper? You name it, it’s coming out of the faucet.

by Charles P. Pierce, originally posted on January 6, 2017


Outside of Washington, and beyond Camp Runamuck in Manhattan, there are still stories out there in the country that are part of larger stories that, in two weeks, are going to be the province of the president-elect and the people that he is hiring. One of those stories is in a small place called St. Joseph in northern Louisiana, where when you turn on your tap, the entire periodic table of elements can come pouring out into your glass. Per the Times-Picayune:

Edwards declared the emergency in the Tensas Parish town after test results Thursday showed elevated levels of lead in two samples — one from a private residence and one from the Town Hall. Edwards, in a news release, said there were two other sites with elevated levels of copper, both at private residences. The town has struggled with poor water quality for years because of a poorly maintained and deteriorating water distribution system, Edwards said. Construction is underway to fix the current system, but completion is months away, Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said. In the meantime, the Louisiana Department of Health recommends residents use another watersource to make ice, brush teeth or use in food preparation, Edwards said.

This has naturally complicated matters for poor people whose lives are complicated enough.

By Fair’s reckoning, the biggest winners in the town’s water crisis have been nearby washaterias. The system over the years has been so unstable that the water may start out clear in the washing machine, and then turn brown during the rinse cycle. “All your whites come out brown. So, a lot of us drive to a laundromat in another town. I go to Winnsboro. Some folks go to Tallulah. Been doing that for years,” Fair said. “I hate to take a shower in it. It leaves a residue, makes my skin itch,” said Lacoty James while picking up bottled drinking water for her family.

And, according to The Baton Rouge Advocate, 300 towns in Louisiana alone cannot afford to bring their water systems up to the lower limits of potability. It turns out that the water problems are complicating local liturgies as well.

Pastor Donald Scott, one of the volunteers from the town’s churches handling the task, said he has suspended baptisms at his Oneonta Baptist Church until he can work out a source to provide clean water. Celebrants’ heads are plunged fully underwater by the minister as part of the ceremony. “They say don’t drink it. I just don’t feel comfortable immersing people in that water,” Scott said. “I’m pretty sure God understands.”

I hope so, because it’s 50-50 whether anyone down here does.

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