URI takes precautions prior to health department’s boil water advisory

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Chlorination began Friday after first positive coliform reading

KINGSTON, R.I. – October 19, 2008 – The University of Rhode Island began precautionary chlorination of its Kingston Campus water system around noon Friday after learning that a sample taken from one site at the Biological Sciences Center tested positive for fecal coliform bacteria.

A required confirmatory sample was taken from the building upon the receipt of this notice. The University also prepared Friday for alternative operations in its dining halls, a bottled water distribution center for students and faculty and for activation of its email, telephone and Web communications tools in the event that the confirmatory test showed bacterial presence.

Today, the Rhode Island Department of Health advised consumers of URI’s water supply to boil water before drinking it after the University learned from its lab that the second sample taken on Friday at the Biological Sciences building came up positive for total coliform bacteria. The second test was taken before chlorination began, but state law requires that when a second positive reading for coliform in a water supply is received, the health department is required to issue a boil water advisory. It said water should be boiled for one minute and allowed to cool before using. Boiling kills bacteria and other organisms in the water. The system can be used for showering and washing without boiling.

As the state issued its water advisory, URI Dining Services, fraternities and sororities, the University Club and other special housing facilities implemented procedures to fully comply with the directive.

The actions at Dining Services are:

• All ice machines, fountain beverage machines and coffee machines have been drained, shut down and sanitized.

• Bottled water and orange juice in cartons are being made available for beverage consumption in Hope Commons and Butterfield dining halls.

• All other Dining Services retail outlets provide bottled beverages.

• Boiled or bottled water is being used in all cooking and baking, or when water is an ingredient or rinsing agent of a particular item.

Resident students on campus today are getting access to bottled water when visiting the dining halls. Arrangements have been made for bottled water distribution beginning Monday, Oct. 20 for students, faculty, and staff in front of the Memorial Union between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The boil water advisory does not affect the Narragansett Bay, W. Alton Jones or Feinstein Providence campuses since they are on separate water systems.

Bal Labs, the University’s independent laboratory, notified URI facilities officials Thursday of a positive test for fecal coliform, and additional tests were taken that day, in accordance with health department procedures. Routine tests taken at other sites throughout the system showed no evidence of coliform bacteria. The tests taken at the water line at the Biological Sciences Center are part of weekly sample testing throughout the URI water system. Jerry Sidio, URI director of Facilities Services, said construction in the area might have caused interruptions in the water line at Biological Sciences and was one possible source of the problem. He added that chlorination kills bacterial contaminants in the water system.

Chlorine was injected into the URI system Friday and remained in the system until Sunday, Oct. 19. The targeted chlorine level was achieved in the system over the weekend at 0.2 parts per million, which is a safe level for consumption, and is generally undetectable to smell and taste.

Shortly after the boil water advisory was issued by the health department, all buildings served by the University’s Kingston Campus water system were posted with a notice and related information Sunday in accordance with state Department of Health requirements.

The boiled water advisory will remain in place until the University has three straight days of test results showing no coliform contamination at the Biological Sciences Center.

The presence of fecal coliform bacteria indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal waste. Such microbes can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches or other symptoms. They pose a special risk for infants, young children and people with compromised immune systems.

Chad Henderson, director of URI Health Services, says there has been no increase of gastrointestinal illnesses among students being treated at the health center.

For further information on bacterial water supply contamination, go to http://www.health.ri.gov/environment/dwq/waterqa.php or for general guidelines on ways to lessen infection are available from the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline, 800-426-4791. URI will be posting updates on its homepage www.uri.edu and its number for urgent University notices, 401-874-SNOW (-7669).