CLARKSBURG -- The state Department of Environmental Protection issued a boil-water order Friday for users of the Briggsville Water District, after regular water sampling turned up E. coli and the continued presence of coliform bacteria in the distribution system.
The order also pertains to water drawn from the system's overflow, the Red Mill Spring on Route 8 in town, which is currently blocked off.
"We're treating the system with chlorination," Clebe Scott, operator for the water system, said Saturday. "Usually, there's no treatment at all on the spring. The last time this happened was about 20 years ago, so people are going to be tasting chlorine in their water. The boil water order will go away as soon as we get three clear samples."
Scott said the chlorine taste will stick around for roughly a month after the treatments.
There are 63 homes connected to the water system in town, including Town Hall, according to Scott. These include locations on Carson and Demers avenues, the bottom of Cross Road, and the Halls Ground section of River Road from the Red Mill Bridge down to Town Hall. The remainder of town residents get their water from wells, springs or from North Adams, and the boil-water order does not apply in those cases.
According to information hand delivered Friday night to homes served by the water system, affected users should not drink the water without boiling it for at least one minute first, or they should use bottled water instead. The boiled water may be cooled before use as the boiling kills bacteria and other organisms in the water. This boiled water, or bottled water, should be used instead for drinking, making ice, food preparation, brushing teeth and washing dishes until further notice.
Also, those affected should discard all ice, beverages, uncooked foods and formula made with this water after June 19.
The order follows a routine monthly water sampling on June 20 at Town Hall that contained both E. coli and coliform bacteria, which is used as an indicator organism for pathogens as its presence is often associated with microbes such as E. coli. Coliform bacteria were also found in follow-up samples from two other locations on June 24 and June 25, but E. coli was not.
"We started treatment before the boil-water order," Scott said. "If you get a positive test, there's a series of steps you have to take and it includes chlorination until the problem is gone."
The fact sheet distributed to users of the water system said the boil-water order was issued, in addition to the treatments already under way, due to the discovery of E. coli bacteria and the ongoing presence of total coliform bacteria in the distribution system.
The fact sheet goes on to say the presence of E. coli bacteria can indicate contamination from animal or human wastes, which are possible sources for microbes that can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches or other symptoms. They may pose a health risk for infants, young children and people with severely compromised immune systems.
While a cause has not been determined for this particular contamination, there are some common culprits.
"From what I hear, other springs are having the same problem," Scott said. With all the rain we've had, one of the reasons this sort of thing happens, is we get lots of runoff and the surface water mixes with the groundwater and we get contaminants."
Scott said testing to monitor the situation would continue Sunday and proceed "pretty much daily until you get three clear samples."
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What to do ...
If your water is affected, the state Department of Environmental Protection recommends:
* Don't drink the water without boiling it for at least one minute, or use bottled water.
* Water boiled then cooled, or bottled water, should be used instead for drinking, making ice, food preparation, brushing teeth and washing dishes until further notice.
* Discard all ice, beverages, uncooked foods and formula made with this water after June 19.
* For more information on boil-water orders, visit www.mass.gov/dep/water/drinking/boilordr.htm.
* For more information on ways to lessen the risk of infection by microbes, call the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.