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Boiled-water alert issued in W.Va.

August 10, 2000|By BOB PARTLOW

Boiled-water alert issued in W.Va.



MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Residents who use public water in and near Shepherdstown should boil their water if they want to drink it or cook with it, probably until early next week.

High levels of muddy water in the town's water plant the past two days caused state officials to issue a boiled-water alert. No cause has been identified, but heavy rain causing huge runoff in the Potomac River is suspected.

At least one other water system, the Opequon Public Service District that serves Berkeley County from Martinsburg north to Maryland, struggled with the same problems. But operators got their problem under control.

The two water systems draw their water from the Potomac River, as does Hagerstown. But Hagerstown officials report no problems with their water.

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Drinking or cooking with unboiled water could cause such health problems as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and possibly headaches or fatigue, said Mike Mower, senior district engineer for the Environmental Engineering Division of the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health. The problem at Shepherdstown is that levels of "turbidity" - how clear the water is - exceed federal and state limits.

"Clarity is a measure of how much dirt you have in the system," Mower said. The more dirt, the more chance that the health of people could be affected, especially those with weakened immune systems.

Water is treated chemically, but if the chemicals are inadequate to the task of purifying the water - as at Shepherdstown - officials are required to take steps, Mower said.

"None of us have seen anything like this," said Chris Hutzler, assistant chief operator with the Shepherdstown Water Department. Officials have changed chemicals, called in chemical company representatives and still can't figure out why they are having trouble, he said. The city expected to have its levels within standards by Thursday night, but it will have to flush out the system and test it, which likely will take until early next week.

"We don't know what happened, Shepherdstown doesn't know what happened, nobody knows what happened," said Dick Beegle, general manager of the Opequon Public Service District. The district started seeing problems Tuesday. They added more chemicals and patched together a system to keep the water flowing.

Beegle said he suspects there's so much more mud in the river because of the recent rains.

"There's also a lot of farm activity now and grasses and grains could be getting more into the river because of the rain," he said.

Officials said the problem is that chemicals are used to bind mud particles together, making it easier to get rid of the mud before the screening and cleaning process. If the mud doesn't clot, it can get through the cleaning process, causing potential health concerns.

Mower said it is "unusual" to have a problem affect more than one system at any given time. The Shenandoah River has experienced no problems, he added.

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