News Feature | December 23, 2013

Louisiana Woman Blames Disinfection Byproducts For Cancer

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A water utility in St. Martin Parish, LA, is getting heat from a resident who claims her tap water may be causing serious illness. 

Carole Duplantis gets her drinking water from the Bayou Teche Water Works system, which violated EPA standards earlier this year with high levels of Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM).

"Three weeks ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Duplantis says she can't say for sure, if drinking the water put her at a higher risk for cancer, but as a customer of the water company, she wants answers," KATC reported.

"It's very scary, now that I have cancer. I mean if we have to worry about our drinking water, then that is ridiculous," she said in the report. "You use water for everything during the day, but the most important thing is the water we drink, and put in our bodies." 

The EPA regulates TTHMs at a maximum allowable annual average level of 80 parts per billion (ppb). Bayou Teche Water Works had an average of 86.8 ppb this year, 10 percent above the max. High levels of TTHM over many years have been linked to “liver, kidney or central nervous system problems and an increased risk of cancer.

DHH is monitoring the water system, and it is not clear whether the contamination led to this resident’s health problems,” KATC reported.

A Bayou Teche operator told KATC the utility is "working to correct the problem by flushing the whole water system once a month." He said there is no emergency. If there were, "residents would have been notified immediately," he said, stating that it takes two decades of exposure to cause problems.

Trihalomethanes are chemicals formed with other disinfection byproducts "when chlorine or other disinfectants used to control microbial contaminants in drinking water react with naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter in water," the agency said. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection said levels of TTHMs can vary with the season. 

"Levels of TTHMs generally increase in the summer months due to the warmer temperatures, but can also be affected by seasonal changes in source water quality or by changing the amounts of disinfection added," the department said. 

Often, TTHM levels shoot up during short-term increases in chlorine for disinfection. 

Whether or not the claims have merit, it looks like the situation could get political. State Representative Terry Landry weighed in. “We're trying to make sure through the state Department of Health and Human Services that the water is safe for residents," Landry said.

Image credit: " running faucet," © 2010 Steve A Johnson, used under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license:

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