RIDOH: Source of E. coli in southern RI water unknown


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Despite conducting an investigation, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) does not know the source of the E. coli that was discovered in the water supply in South County.

About 38,000 water customers in parts of Narragansett and South Kingstown remain under a boil water advisory, almost a week after the bacteria was detected in five public water systems. 

“With water systems this large, it is quite common that a source is not specifically identified,” RIDOH Director Dr. Alexander-Scott said. “Our focus is to make sure it’s a one-time event, that there isn’t anything that we have missed.”

To do that, the entire system is being treated with chlorine. It’s a safe amount for water but strong enough to kill the bacteria, according to RIDOH. 

“Getting that all through the system should be good to be able to clear it,” Dr. Alexander-Scott said. 

Testing is underway to make sure.   

The first samples were collected and tested Wednesday afternoon. RIDOH spokesperson Joseph Wendelken said the Narragansett-North End water system tested negative for E.coli, but tested positive for coliform bacteria. This means the water may be potentially contaminated by human or animal waste.

Due to the water system’s test results, boil water advisory for Narragansett-North End has been extended by one day.

Wendelken said the South Kingstown-South Shore and South Kingstown-Middlebridge water systems’ results are still pending. He also said the test results for the Suez Water system and Narragansett-Point Judith water system came back negative for coliform bacteria, including E.coli.

The boil water advisory will only be lifted after three consecutive days of bacteria-free test results, so the earliest the boil water advisory could be lifted is Saturday evening.  

“When the boil water advisory is lifted, people should run any unused taps for about 10 minutes,” explained June Swallow, RIDOH’s director of the Center for Drinking Water Quality.

“They should  change out any filters that they had in place, clean their ice machine, flush their refrigerator water, and also dump the first batch of ice,” she added.

Dr. Alexander-Scott said RIDOH is monitoring local hospitals and has not seen a spike in illnesses related to E.Coli, but she cautioned it is still imperative for people to continue boiling their water before using it. 

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