Colonial Beach drinking water contamination determination to notify public lies with Health Department
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 July 2014 11:05
- Published on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 13:33
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On July 23, at 10:15 a.m., The Journal spoke with Bennett Ragnauth, Engineering Field Director from Virginia Department of Health East Central Field Office of Drinking Water.
The Town of Colonial Beach is required to take 4 routine water samples per month. The samples are then sent to the State Lab for testing. These samples are tested for Total Coliform, which is an indicator there could be other organisms present. If a sample tests positive for Total Coliform, then it is further tested for E. coli.
E. coli is found in the gut of warm-blooded animals and can cause short-term health effects such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches and other symptoms.
Routine samples are taken from the distribution system. If a sample tests positive for E. coli, then Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations state the locality must retest the water sources. With Colonial Beach, that involves three wells that provide all the water for the town.
On July 8, CB Public Works took four routine samples of drinking water and sent them to the State Lab.
The State Lab advises that bacteriological testing requires a 24-hour incubation period upon receipt, with results being determined at the end of the 24-hour period.
According to Ragnauth, results from the July 8 CB water samples were available from the State on Sunday, July 13, and to the VA Office of Drinking Water. Two of the four samples tested positive for Total Coliform; the other two were negative.
The two samples that tested positive for Total Coliform were tested for E. coli; one came back positive and the other negative.
Since a total of three samples tested positive, two for Total Coliform and one for E. coli, the town must perform six repeat sample tests; two for each positive result.
The Office of Drinking Water contacted the Town of CB on Monday, July 14, with test results. They discussed those results that day and instructed the town to collect six repeat samples.
The six repeat samples were collected on July 15, and sent to the State Lab.
Test results from the State Lab were available to the Office of Drinking Water at 5:35 p.m. on July 18.
The results from the July 15 re-sampling showed that two of the six tested positive for Total Coliform; both were retested for E. coli, but came back negative.
The original test site that was found positive for E. coli came back negative for any contamination, as did the other three from the July 15 samples.
Ragnauth said the Office of Drinking Water looked at the July 13 and July 18 results and determined that a notice to residents and businesses should be issued. Ragnauth stated that to have issued a notice from just one result from the July 8 samples would have been inappropriate. Ragnauth said, “It is standard protocol to check retests before determining to send a notice; you can't act on just one.”
However, the Town could have voluntarily provided information and cautions to residents and business owners, but it was not a directive of the Office of Drinking Water.
The Office of Drinking Water did not notify the Town of the July 15 sample test results until late on Monday, July 21, at which time they also issued the notice to the public. The Westmoreland Health Department was instructed to notify all restaurants and businesses that serve water to the public, and the Town was charged with notifying the private citizens.
On Tuesday, July 22, Town staff hand-delivered notices to residents warning of the contamination and instructing residents to boil their tap water for three minutes prior to ingesting, posted the notice on the website and broadcast over their emergency notification system. The Town also began immediate action to flush pipes, increase chlorination, increase field disinfection testing and taking additional follow-up/special and routine samples.
Ragnauth thinks the Town has shown due diligence in the matter.
The results showed the contamination is not from the town wells, the source of drinking water. The contamination is in the distribution system, meaning the water pipes.
It is possible that the samples could have been improperly collected, but the Office of Drinking Water does not make that determination; it enforces rules assuming tests are taken properly, to err on the side of caution.
CB Public Works is collecting eight samples today, July 23, 2014, and Ragnauth expects results from the State Lab sometime on Friday. He has instructed CB Public Works to call the lab Friday for verbal results.