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North Adams Residents Alerted to Water Reporting Errors
By Tammy Daniels & Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff
06:41PM / Tuesday, August 29, 2017
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The Water Department sent letters out informing residents that it failed to perform certain activities after positive tests for coliform bacteria.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Officials say the city's water is safe, but residents with compromised immune systems are still being cautioned after three water samples came up positive for total coliform bacteria. 
 
According to a letter mailed to residents from the Water Department, random testing in June turned up positive samples of coliform bacteria. However, the department says samples taken from the same sites the next day came up negative. 
 
"Nobody should worry," Timothy Lescarbeau, commissioner of public services, said Tuesday. "Everything is explained in the letter. It even says samples from the original site the following day came back negative for total coliform."
 
There is no boil order or need to take corrective actions at home. If it had been an emergency, residents would have been notified within 24 hours. But because the city failed to notify the state Department of Environmental Protection in a timely manner, it was required to send the letter outlining what had happened and cautioning certain citizens — including the elderly and pregnant women — may be at increased risk in drinking the water.
 
Coliform bacteria is naturally occurring and not generally harmful but can indicate more harmful pathogens that could cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea and related headaches.
 
"Samples were taken back in June and a couple of them had total coliform so it was resampled the next day and they came back clean," Lescarbeau said. "There are several reasons why there can be total coliform — dirty bottles and we were actually flushing at the time — things like that."
 
Lescarbeau said the samples were an indicator that further testing should be done. 
 
"If there were only two hits, there wouldn't be any notification required but because there was three, 10 percent of the samples, we are required to put a notification out," he said.
 
Water testing is done on a regular basis at random sites throughout the city. According to the letter, if the findings had been deemed harmful, residents would have been notified in 24 hours. The city was also supposed to inform the DEP within five days of the findings and submit an assessment by July 19; neither was done on time.
 
"The other part of this is after the original samples were taken, DEP was supposed to be notified within five days," Lescarbeau said. "Usually the lab takes care of it and they are supposed to let them know that we did resample. They didn't do that for whatever reason, but ultimately it is our responsibility to do that so that's what it's all about. ...
 
"We didn't even know it was an issue until Aug. 7 when they notified us of the violation. If it was coliform and it had E.coli in it, it would have been on the radio that day."
 
The assessment identifying the problem was submitted to DEP on July 25, six days late, and the state was notified that corrective issues were being put in place. They include:
  • Improving sample correction procedures, site identification and personnel training
  • Develping a revised coliform sampling plan
  • Addressing sanity defects, including the flushing that was occurring during the testing period, and lab storage methods to see if they were source of the contamination.
"After talking with the lab and a couple other water systems they all seemed to have high coliforms at the same exact time and they were resampled the next day and they were all clean so that tells you something," Lescarbeau said. "To me, I think it's the bottles but we are required to notify everyone."
 
As customers, city residents are entitled to know that the system's checks had failed and that actions were being taken to correct them. Lescarbeau had recently told the City Council that the water was safe after questions were raised about recent testing in the school buildings. Those tests had been done with state grant money to identify possible lead and copper contamination, all of which have been remediated.
 
"It's just all the administrative stuff we have to do," Lescarbeau said. "[The letter] also says you don't have to boil water or take corrective actions ... but we are just required by law to put this out."

Water Department Letter by iBerkshires.com on Scribd

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