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Coliform bacteria found in some Berkeley County public water samples

February 14, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The presence of coliform bacteria in samples of water taken from the northern and northwestern portions of Berkeley County's public water system in December might never be fully explained, the system's administrator said Wednesday.

After consulting with experts and engineers about the discovery of the naturally occurring bacteria contamination, Berkeley County Public Water Service District Executive Director Paul Fisher said he found out that such contamination was not as infrequent as he previously thought.

The presence of the bacteria was found in two samples on Dec. 19, 2007, but subsequent sampling did not yield additional positive results.

"This is the same thing we had in the southern part of the county back in October," Fisher said of a previous sampling discovery that came up with a similarly inconclusive result and no additional positive samples.

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Coliform bacteria generally are not harmful themselves, but are used as an indicator that other potentially harmful bacteria might be present, according to a mailing that Fisher said was distributed this week to about 5,500 customers north and northwest of Martinsburg toward Hedgesville (W.Va.) High School.

Another 7,500 customers south of Martinsburg received a similar mailing after samples taken in October tested positive, Fisher said. The City of Martinsburg operates its own water system in between the county's distribution areas.

"We've spent $10,000 telling people" that the county's water system violated a drinking water standard as is required by law, Fisher said.

Residents should not consider the bacteria finding to be an emergency situation, but water district officials are telling customers in the affected service area from the December sampling that people with severely compromised immune systems, infants and some older residents might be at increased risk and should seek advice about drinking water from their health-care providers.

Fisher said the source of the positive samples for coliform has not been pinpointed in either sampling and might never be determined in either case. The December results, however, have led to more sampling locations being tested each month, Fisher said.

"We are increasing the number of samples we take by three (up to 25 per month)" in the northern portion of the water distribution system, Fisher said.

Water district officials sample the water monthly at different tap sites in the system to monitor for contaminants, and Fisher considers the current sampling matter to be resolved and not a cause for immediate concern.

General guidelines on ways to lessen the risk of infection by microbes are available from the Environmental Protection Agency's Safe Drinking Water hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

For more information, customers may contact Daryl Mason, district water production superintendent, at 304-274-5801 or in writing to P.O. Box 737, Martinsburg, WV 25402-0737.

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