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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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Colonial Beach boil water notice rescinded

Colonial Beach residents were given the ‘all clear’ on July 25, after being notified 3 days earlier to boil all water before ingesting. The notice was ordered by the Health Department and delivered by town staff to residents after test results from a July 8 sample tested positive for E. coli.

Although the decision to give notice lies with the Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water, some citizens feel the town should have given some sort of warning a week earlier when the town first got test results indicating E. coli was found in one of the samples.

Bennett Ragnauth, Engineering Field Director from Virginia Department of Health East Central Field Office of Drinking Water said, “It is standard protocol to check retests before determining to send a notice; you can’t act on just one.”

On July 22, residents of the town were hand-delivered notices to boil water for three minutes and let cool, before using water for food handling, drinking, brushing teeth or any other type of ingestion.

On July 23 at 10:15 am, The Journal spoke with Ragnauth. The Town of Colonial Beach Public Works is required to take 4 routine water samples each month. The samples are then sent to the State lab for testing. The samples are tested for Total Coliform, which Ragnauth said is only an indicator there could be other organisms present.

The State lab says that bacteriological testing requires a 24-hour incubation period upon receipt, with results being determined at the end of the 24-hour period.

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 or other symptoms.

Routine water 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 also test the water sources. In the case of Colonial Beach, that involves three wells that provide all the water for the town. All three wells tested negative for any indicators (Total Coliform).

TIMELINE OF TESTING:
Tuesday, July 8- The Town of Colonial Beach sent four routine samples of drinking water to the State lab.
Sunday, July 13- Results from the July 8 samples were made available to the Office of Drinking Water (after business hours).

Results: Two samples tested positive for Total Coliform, and two samples were clean.

The two samples that tested positive for Total Coliform were tested for E. coli. One came back positive, and the other one negative.

Monday, July 14- The Office of Drinking Water contacted Public Works in the Town of Colonial Beach with test results.
Tuesday, July 15- Six repeat samples were collected from the town’s water supply and sent to the State lab.

Friday, July 18- The July 15 samples’ results were available to the Office of Drinking Water at 5:35 pm.

Results for July 15 samples: Two tested positive for Total Coliform; both were retested for E. coli, but both came back clean (negative for E. coli).

The other four samples were clean. The original test site that was found positive for E. coli came back negative for any contamination, as did the other three samples from the July 15 collections.

Both the July 13 and 18 results were reviewed by the Office of Drinking Water. The Office determined that a notice to residents should be issued. Ragnauth stated that to issue 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.”

Monday, July 21- The Office of Drinking Water notified the town of the July 15 samples’ test results late in the day on July 21, at which time they also issued the notice to the public. The Westmoreland County Health Department was instructed to notify all restaurants and businesses that serve water to the public, and the town was charged with notifying its citizens.

According to CB Public Works Director Rob Murphy, on July 21, he had not received an official boil water notice during regular business hours. The email notice to issue a boil water notice came to Murphy’s email at 5:35 pm, after he had left the office. He read the email early the following morning around 7:00 am, at which time Murphy started action to ensure notices were being delivered and continued with the ongoing chlorination and flushing.   

Tuesday, July 22- Town staff hand-delivered notices to residents, warning of the contamination and instructing residents to boil water for three minutes prior to ingesting. They posted the notice on the town’s website and broadcast the warning over their emergency notification system. The town also stepped up efforts already in progress to flush pipes, increase chlorination, increase field disinfection testing, and taking additional follow-up/special and routine samples.

The town collected seven samples on July 23, and all came back clean; negative for Total Coliform. The town received notification of these results on Friday, July 25. In turn, residents were notified that the boil water notice had been rescinded.

Ragnauth thinks the town has shown due diligence in the matter. However, the town could have voluntarily provided information and cautions to residents, but it was not a directive of the Office of Drinking Water.

Test results show the contamination was not from the wells, the source of the town’s drinking water. The contamination was in the distribution system, meaning the water pipes.

There are possibilities 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.

Linda Farneth

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