Boil order remains in effect in Webster, MA

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

By Jean Laquidara Hill
Telegram & Gazette Staff

WEBSTER-- As a boil order continues because of E. coli contaminating the public water supply, town officials are trying to provide an alternate water source for residents so they will not need to continue boiling water vigorously for a full minute, or have to buy water.
     Water Department Superintendent David R. Lavallee said the most optimistic outlook would be a lifting of the boil order late tomorrow, if water submitted for testing yesterday proves to be clean.
     Test results that came back yesterday on water submitted Sunday showed no contamination at the Webster Manor test site on School Street and none at the Hubbard Regional Hospital test site on Thompson Road. But E. coli was found at another test site on Thompson Road near the Connecticut line and at two test sites on Route 16, Mr. Lavallee said.
     The town water supply comes from three well sites. Two are within a quarter-mile of each other near Memorial Beach, and the other is on Bigelow Road. The water distribution system is looped, so contamination entering at any point could be distributed throughout the system, according to Mr. Lavallee.
     He said he thinks fluctuations in water pressure caused by firefighting could have caused the contamination. Or it could have come from goose feces, or from another source. He said he is checking to see if there is any problem in the system that could cause contamination.
     While searching for the source of contamination and waiting for the water to test clean, the town is chlorinating water, and that could provide safe water by Thursday, after it passes two rounds of testing, Mr. Lavallee said.
     People have been calling the Water Department constantly, asking if the water has tested clean yet, and most have been frustrated but reasonable, according to Mr. Lavallee.
     Health Agent Lawrence W. Peters said yesterday that Price Chopper supermarket has offered to donate bottled water for elderly residents, and the Army National Guard is at Memorial Beach purifying water from Webster Lake to make it available to residents. According to Mr. Peters, the lake water will not be available until 48 hours after it is purified, because it has to be certified by the state Department of Environmental Protection before it can be dispensed to the public.
     The town will post the water availability on public access Channel 11 and alert all news media when safe water is available, Mr. Peters said.
     He said it is critical that people take the boil order seriously, and that they watch children closely to make sure they do not ingest town water. It is difficult for people to break such routines as rinsing a toothbrush under the faucet, he said.
     People can shower and bathe with town water if they are very careful not to get any in their mouths, but he cautioned against having a face cloth in the bathtub, because it can get contaminated. And, he said, children tend to get bath water in their mouths.
     He said the precautions are most stringent for restaurants and day care centers, since the state Department of Public Health requires child care and food service employees in this situation to boil water and cool it to between 105 and 110 degrees to wash their hands.
     “We're letting the restaurants stay open as long as they don't let people into the lavatories. If they want to sell food, that's fine, but they can't use the town water unless they want to sterilize the pots, which they can do by boiling the water and using a sanitizing agent,” Mr. Peters said yesterday.
     “They're losing money, and we don't want to hurt them in that respect,” he said.
     The Army National Guard is purifying 6,000 gallons of water an hour using two multistage purification systems usually used to provide water for troops in areas where there is no safe water, according to First Lt. Darren M. Clapprood of the Army National Guard.
     He said about 30 members of units from the 125th Quartermaster of Webster and the 704th Quartermaster of Framingham are processing the water at the beach. The beach is closed because of the water purification operation.
     First, Lt. Clapprood said, the goal is to provide 50,000 gallons of water, which will be stored in a tan balloon-like container that has a nozzle so the water can be dispensed.
     “People can bring water jugs and fill them up,” when the water is ready and has been tested, he said.
     He said the lake water is put through a “spin cycle,” which spins out sand and other solid materials; then it is put into a massive filtration system, where chlorine is added to kill bacteria and a coagulant is added that causes remaining particles to bind together so they can be filtered out.
     He said the water that has been processed so far has been sent for testing and the town is awaiting test results. Residents will be notified through public access Channel 11 and the media when the water is ready.