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Water warning softened

June 05, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Health Department official Laurie Bucher said Wednesday the drinking water for several homes and businesses near Boonsboro is generally safe to drink, even though she and a state agency described the water as posing a "serious health threat to consumers" a day earlier.

"The drinking water for some of the wells may be contaminated, but with proper disinfection, (that may) provide safe drinking water - generally," Bucher said.

Bucher, director of the health department's environmental health division, on Tuesday told the Washington County Commissioners that some wells along Old National Pike from Lappans Road (Md. 68) to Mill Point Road were contaminated with fecal bacteria.

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She also said surface water containing pathogens can seep into the well water, causing people to get sick with flu-like symptoms from several diseases.

On Wednesday, she said the chance of that happening was slim.

The Health Department and the Maryland Department of the Environment have recommended that the Town of Boonsboro's water and sewer lines be extended so residents and businesses along Old National Pike don't have to use potentially contaminated well water.

Both agencies said the quality of drinking water was found to pose "a serious public health risk to consumers" after they tested water samples from several wells in the Boonsboro area, according to a memo from Bucher to the commissioners.

Bucher said Wednesday the two departments have not found pathogens in the well water because they did not test for that, but they have found fecal bacteria.

Several business owners said Tuesday and Wednesday that their drinking water is free from contaminants.

"It's not," Bucher said Wednesday. "We have found there is a lot of contamination. That's why we're at this stage."

Bucher said that several businesses - Faith Christian Academy, Victory Baptist Church, Tri-State Church of God, Boonsboro Produce, Boonsboro Pharmacy, Yellow House, National Pike Grille & Pub (formerly Old Pike Inn), Scenic View Mobile Home Park and M&T Bank - have treatment systems that rid the well water of fecal bacteria.

But those treatment systems may not kill the disease-causing pathogens that can be passed on to wells from surface water, she said.

"That's the seriousness of this," Bucher said Wednesday. "It's not totally guaranteed."

Pastor Scott Varney of Tri-State Church of God said Wednesday he thinks the Health Department and the Maryland Department of the Environment are "really overplaying" the quality of the well water.

"If it's such a danger, then why haven't you shut us down yet?" Varney said.

He said he had planned to ask the Health Department that question.

Varney said the church has its water tested every quarter and has had good results.

He said the church and businesses will face repercussions from area residents and customers who are afraid that the businesses are using contaminated water.

On Tuesday, Gary Haas, owner of Boonsboro Pharmacy and Sharon Wade, wife of Pastor Ed Wade of Victory Baptist Church, also said their well water is regularly tested and contained no contaminants.

Bucher said Tuesday that if properties with contaminated water are not hooked up to public water or if a mini-treatment plant with a certified operator is not established by March 1, 2004, businesses may end up getting fined by health officials.

She said the matter must be taken care of by that time to comply with Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

"We're trying to be more proactive than reactive," Bucher said.

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