On Friday, September 21, a 29-year-old New Jersey resident named Fabrizio Stabile died from primary amebic meningoencephalitis, an incredibly rare illness caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri. Since he had recently visited the BSR Cable Park’s wave pool in Waco, Texas, the Center for Disease Control was called in to test the waters. On October 12, the results came back, and despite BSR Cable Park’s claims that “BSR SURF RESORT, Lazy River & Royal Flush slide WATER TESTS COME BACK CLEAN,” the actual test results tell a different story.
A Waco Public Health Notice reads as follows: “Results of environmental sampling conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in collaboration with the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District (WMCPHD) and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) found evidence of Naegleria fowleri, a free-living ameba (single celled organism) that causes Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, a rare and devastating brain infection with an over 97% fatality rate at the BSR Cable Park and Surf Resort (BSR). A New Jersey resident who had visited BSR this summer died after contracting the disease. Epidemiologic and environmental assessment indicates that exposure likely occurred at this facility.”
A copy of the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District’s report obtained by The Inertia and available to view in full below states that “Naegleria fowleri was detected in the large-volume ultrafiltration water sample and sediment sample collected at the Cable Park where the drain from the Lil’ Bro enters the Cable Park pond.”
Read the full report here:
The BSR Cable Park’s press release distributed to media and posted on their website, Facebook, and Instagram contradicts the CDC’s report.
“Although comprehensive test results have now confirmed that the water at BSR Surf Resort meets every standard for safety,” it reads, “today I am announcing that we are going the extra mile and hiring a North Carolina firm to install a state-of-the-art filtration system to make our water in the surf, on lazy river, and at the Royal Flush slide is as clear and clean as humanly possible.”
It should be noted that Naegleria fowleri was only detected in the Cable Park and not in the Surf Resort, the Lazy River, or the Royal Flush attractions. The former three attractions, however, were not exactly clean. The CDC’s testing found viable thermophilic amoeba (which, according to Craine, are “other types of amoeba that are similar to N. Fowleri”), Coliforms, E.coli, and Enterococci in nearly every attraction. The Lazy River showed no signs of amoeba cultures, and Naegleria fowleri was only detected in the Cable Park, but Coliforms, E.coli, and Enterococci were found in each attraction.
“The presence of fecal indicator organisms (total coliforms, enterococci), viable thermophilic ameba, and high turbidity indicate a treatment failure, and when the water is warm, would create conditions amenable to Naegleria fowleri growth,” reads the two-page report. “Detection of Naegleria fowleri on the property indicates the potential for the amoeba to enter other surface water bodies on the property through various routes (i.e., soil, run-off, person transfer, etc.). The unprotected surface water reservoir supplying the water bodies is susceptible to soil intrusion and warm water through radiant heating. Moreover, the reservoir is supplied by ground water; studies have shown ground water can contain Naegleria fowleri.”
With the contradicting statements in mind, The Inertia contacted Kelly Craine, the Public Health Information Specialist of the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District, for some clarity.
“At the Surf Resort, the Lazy River, and the Royal Flush, what was found in the report was fecal indicator organisms,” she explained. “That includes coliform, E.coli, and Enterococci. There was high turbidity, which means unclear water. There were low free chlorine levels, and there were those other amoeba. This indicates favorable conditions for growth.” When asked if that would be a common thing to find in a pool, her answer was simple: “No.”
The distinction between the Cable Park and the Surf Resort, the Lazy River, and the Royal Flush is an important one. “Let me say that the cable park is a natural body of water,” Craine explained. “It’s not something that is treatable in the same sense that you could go out to your local lake and treat it. It’s part of the natural condition.”
Since public pools and natural bodies of water are subject to different regulations, a place like BSR exists in something of a gray area. “The real crux of it all seems to be that without precedence in a brand new industry, how these matters are ‘dealt with appropriately’ may have yet to be determined,” wrote The Inertia‘s Juan Hernandez.
The BSR Cable Park is closed until further notice, and they appear to be doing everything they can to create the safest conditions possible for their customers and mitigate the accompanying PR disaster. “For the past two weeks, increased awareness of this incredibly rare disease, Naegleria fowleri, has swept the globe,” BSR’s press release read. “What will come of all this news coverage and commentary? At BSR Surf Park, we are determined it will help save lives.”
According to Stuart Parsons, the owner of the BSR Cable Park, he met with the Health Dept on Friday morning.
“They told me test results from surf, river, and slide were negative,” Parsons explained to The Inertia. “Not found.” And while it is true that Naegleria fowleri was not found in the surf, river, or slide, test results indicated material concerns with the water quality. Beyond that, the possibility remains that Stabile was infected at the park, as the report concludes that “exposure likely occurred at this facility.”
Also at issue is the chlorination of BSR Cable Park’s water. “There was no free chlorine in there,” Craine continued. “So while they were putting chlorine in there, that chlorine was not effective.”
For now, the Surf Resort, the Lazy River, and the Royal Flush are closed. “Today I am announcing that we are going the extra mile and hiring a North Carolina firm to install a state-of-the-art filtration system to make our water in the Surf, on Lazy river, and at the Royal Flush slide is as clear and clean as humanly possible,” Parsons wrote. “It will take us to February to complete the installation of this new filtration system working very closely with local, state and CDC officials…We want to make people happy — and safe — and that’s what we are going to continue to do.”