Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards speaking in July 2016 Reuters

Residents in the Louisiana town of St Joseph have been told they should not drink from their taps after tested water showed high levels of lead and may possibly be dangerous.

A public health emergency was called in the town on 16 December, with the state's governor, John Bel Edwards arriving on Monday (19 December) to meet local officials.

Abnormally coloured and foul smelling water had been noted in the town as early as February but the state had said that it was safe to drink. Some recent samples showed high levels of lead while two showed high levels of copper.

One of the samples showing elevated levels of lead was from the town hall, the governor's office said. A new wave of sampling is now taking place in the town while every resident is being given three litres of water each day by state personnel.

According to CNN, many residents are blaming the outgoing mayor, Edward Brown, for the water issues. He has been accused by the state legislative auditor of pocketing government funds and handing contracts to his own family members.

The mayor's lateness handing over the town audit meant that a $6m grant from the state to reconstruct the town's almost 90-year-old water system was not released for months. Brown was defeated in the last election and will be replaced by Elvadus Fields in January.

St. Joseph is an African American majority town of just over 1,000 residents which covers less than a mile of land.

The town of Flint, Michigan hit headlines in 2015 for similar reasons when a switch of the town's water supply intended to save money left some with lead poisoning and possibly led to deaths. Four officials resigned over the situation, which still has not been resolved, even though Michigan governor Rick Snyder started 2016 apologising for the crisis.