06/26/08 — E. coli found in Greenville water; eateries closed

View Archive

E. coli found in Greenville water; eateries closed

By Staff and Wire
Published in News on June 26, 2008 1:46 PM

GREENVILLE -- Greenville Utilities is asking customers to boil water before using it, and the Pitt County Health Department has ordered all restaurants in the city to close because of fecal contamination.

However, utilities officials are hopeful that the problem can be resolved within the next 24 hours -- possibly as early as this afternoon.

"It's a matter of waiting on the testing to come back," utilities spokeswoman Linda Clark said.

The problem is a fecal coliform contamination -- which can be caused by human or animal waste -- in the Greenville water system.

It was first discovered during "routine testing" on Monday, Ms. Clark said.

Then, once those results were confirmed Wednesday morning, the utilities department issued the press release warning people to boil their water before using it, while the county Health Department simultaneously shut down the city's restaurants.

However, Ms. Clark explained, officials don't believe that the city's entire system was contaminated.

"It appears to be isolated in one section at the end of the system," she said. "That's what we believe, but we're testing the entire system to ensure that's true."

The initial positive result was found along County Home Road, which is in the southern end of the city.

To solve the problem, the utilties department is working to flush that section of the system and prevent any back flow.

Currently they are not sure what might have caused the problem, but such bacterial contamination can occur when increased runoff enters the drinking water source (for example, following heavy rains). It can also happen due to a break in the distribution system (pipes) or a failure in the water treatment process.

"We're not sure yet. They've investigated it and we don't know yet. It may be one of those things that we don't know -- a one-time contamination and we don't know the source," Ms. Clark said.

In the meantime, county health officials are asking that residents use boiled or bottled water for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation until further notice.

The ban on drinking water includes East Carolina University and Pitt County Memorial Hospital. Officials at both said they were taking measures to protect students and patients from drinking water that has been possibly contaminated.

At the hospital, where spokeswoman Beth Anne Atkins said that they have not seen an increase in patients because of the contamination, alcohol-based hand sanitizers and bottled water are being provided.

Surgeries, she explained, are continuing as scheduled because "for operations we use sterile water anyway that we have here on site."

The effect of the contamination also is being felt in city grocery stores where shelves were emptied of bottled water by late Wednesday and store officials said they were having more shipped in.

According to the city's Web site, microbes in such dirty water can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms, and may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, some of the elderly, and people with severely comprised immune systems.

When state inspectors declare the water safe to drink, customers will be notified, city officials said.

People seeking more information are asked to call 1-252-329-2160.