Nov 12, 2007

Schools, Hospital Combat Greenville Water Woes

Greenville, N.C.’s Water Authority’s boil advisory will likely remain in effect until Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving, while the treatment plant’s filtration system is repaired.

Greenville’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) inspected the plant about a week ago, and Wednesday’s test results from the Shenango River, the authority’s raw water source, showed high levels of Giardia, a parasite that can infect the intestine, Freda Tarbell, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said Thursday.

The authority issued the boil notice Wednesday night. Water should be boiled if it is going to be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and preparing food. Bring water to a boil and let if boil for one minute.

DEP officials have not been able to determine if Giardia is also present in Greenville’s treated water that people consume, which is why the boil alert is necessary as a precaution, Tarbell said.

Giardia is a common parasite found in water, but it is unknown how it entered the Shenango River in Greenville. Giardia can live in the intestines of humans and animals, so if an animal defecates in the river or rainwater washes its feces into the river, that is one way the parasite can enter the water, Tarbell said.

Dr. Patricia M. Homer, superintendent of the Greenville Area School District, said water fountains have been blocked off and a large supply of bottled water is on hand. Cafeteria workers are boiling water when necessary and no students have reported being sick, she said.

The boil alert has not caused major disruptions for the authority’s largest customers in terms of usage, Thiel and UPMC Horizon, Greenville, neither of which have had reports of illness.

When the water authority notified Thiel College Wednesday, all students, staff and parents received e-mails about the boil alert, said Joyce Carr, director of public relations. Signs were also posted throughout the campus.

The college stocked about 15,000 bottles of water, some of which were purchased at local stores and others shipped by the school’s food service provider.

All food preparation areas on campus were sanitized Wednesday night, and bottled water will be used for cooking, but the tap water will be boiled if needed. All water fountains have been wrapped in plastic, Carr said.

Surgeries and other procedures at the University of Pittsburch Medical Center (UPMC) have not been canceled, and patient care has not been affected, said Erin Palko, the hospital’s public relations manager.

Hospital staffers are using hand sanitizers and washing with antibacterial soap, which they already use daily, she said Thursday.

Drinking fountains and ice machines have been shut off, and bottled water has been distributed throughout the hospital. Patients with open wounds and weak immune systems, who have a higher risk of getting sick from Giardia, are using bath-in-a-bag kits instead of showering, Palko said.

This is the second time this year the water authority had to issue a boil alert. 
A 16-in. water line broke May 12 in downtown Greenville, leaving about 2,000 customers with little or no water. 
The alert lasted several days as a precaution while the line was repaired.

PICTURE: Bottled water was flying off the shelves in the Greenville area because of the boil water alert issued Wednesday. Harry Bancroft, assistant manager of Giant Eagle, Hempfield Township, was restocking the store’s supply Thursday morning. 
Jason Kapusta/Herald