2006-08-24 / Front Page

Town water exceeds contaminant level

By Sam Bari

On Monday night, Department of Public Works Director Steve Goslee addressed the Town Council, sitting as the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners, about a letter that was recently sent to all municipal water customers.

The letter said that the municipal water system recently exceeded the microbiological maximum contaminant level standard. It also said that the situation was not an emergency, but customers have a right to know what happened, what they should do, and what the department is doing to correct the situation.

"We routinely monitor for the presence of drinking water contaminants. Eleven samples for coliform bacteria were taken during the month of July 2006 and two of those samples showed the presence of coliform bacteria. The resulting percentage of total coliform positive samples for the month of July was 18.2 percent. The standard is that no more than 5 percent per month may do so," the letter said.

Goslee noted that the samples exceeding the limit were not taken from residential sources. "There is a good chance that the water going to homes is well within the 5 percent range," he said.

According to the letter, customers "do not need to boil water or take other corrective actions." Anyone with specific health concerns should consult their doctor. Additionally, customers were told that ways to lessen the risk of infection are available by calling the Environmental Protection Agency's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791.

The section of the letter explaining the specifics of what "exceeding the microbiological maximum contaminant level standard" means to customers emphasized that the situation was not an emergency. It also said that if it had been an emergency, customers would have been notified immediately. "Total coliform bacteria are generally not harmful. Coliforms are bacteria which are naturally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other potentially harmful bacteria may be present. Coliforms were found in more samples than allowed and this was a warning of potential problems," the letter continued.

"Usually, coliforms are a sign that there could be a problem with the treatment or distribution system. Whenever we detect coliform bacteria in any sample, we do follow-up testing to see if other bacteria of greater concern, such as fecal coliform or E. coli, are present," the letter said.

According to the letter, the treatment plant chlorine system was operational and functioning properly at all times. "The plant is not able to operate with the chlorine systems off line as a safety feature," the letter said. "Most likely, the water temperature, which is approximately 80 degrees, along with the new pipe in the distribution system has scoured debris from the old pipe and put it into suspension in the system. This debris can serve to provide an environment for microbial re-growth. Samples were also taken from bath or kitchen taps at the highway garage and fire station. Contamination from the plumbing fixture or nozzle may also be the cause of the positive samples," the letter said.

Fay, Spofford & Thorndike of Burlington, Mass., the consulting engineering firm hired by the town, is sending an engineer this week to assist in identifying what may have cause the positive tests, the letter said. The water department began flushing the entire system on Tuesday, Aug. 15. The department also increased the chlorine level to provide a higher residual in the distribution system as an added precaution, according to the letter.

Customers may notice the smell and taste of chlorine in areas where they have not noticed them in the past, the letter said. The water department has not had any positive tests since the two that exceeded the standard. Historically, the department has tested more frequently than required and positive tests are rarely encountered, according to the letter.

Anyone who wants more information should contact Steven Goslee at 423-7220 or write to P.O. Box 377 Jamestown, RI 02835.

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