RICHBURG, S.C. - It could be Monday or Tuesday before hundreds of people in Chester County can drink their water again.
The Chester Metropolitan District warned residents not to drink or cook with the water in Richburg because of concerns about a chemical herbicide that might have gotten into the system.
The concern comes from a small pond outside the company, Foot Print off of Highway 9, that makes packaging material.
The pond is a large water supply in case of a fire.
An herbicide known as flumioxazin is put in the pond to kill algae.
Officials said that a backflow valve in the system failed, which is designed to keep the pond water out of the public water system.
The failure may have allowed some pond water and possibly the herbicide into the system.
"I wouldn't encourage anybody to drink it until we tell you that it's safe to drink," said Fred Castles, who heads the Chester Metropolitan District. "We issued this warning out of an abundance of caution."
Castles said the chemical is not considered dangerous, but they want to make sure there are still no trace amounts in the water supply.
The do not drink warning affects 250 customers in Richburg, which is about 700 people.
It does not affect residents on Highway 9.
Utility company employees took bottled water door-to-door to residents and left more at the Richburg Fire Department for those affected by the advisory.
Gerald Hensley and his wife Patricia received some bottled water that was delivered to their door. He said that utility employees contacted them and explained the situation.
"They made real effort to contact people and these were live individuals that were making the phone calls. So, they were concerned that you weren't drinking that water," Hensley said.
Officials are flushing out fire hydrants near the plant and on the half-dozen streets in the area.
The chemical herbicide is considered mildly toxic and looks blue in water, which makes it easy to see.
Officials said that they found some blue water in the plant and at a residence but are still testing other places to be sure the chemical is not present.
"We've flushed for the last three days. We've been sampling, and we're sending samples off tomorrow to California," Castles said.
He expects to have results by the end of the weekend.
If they get the all-clear, residents will be contacted and told the water is safe.
SPOKANE, Wash. — After some Hillyard residents were unable to drink or cook with their water in July, the City of Spokane is looking into ways to make sure a similar incident doesn’t happen again. The contamination occurred in the neighborhood when a commercial hydroseed truck pumping water from a hydrant allowed backflow into the water system. Many water usage meters in the affected area had to be replaced, as they were clogged with hydroseed fibers. The city is considering two options: installing locks on fire hydrants to prevent unauthorized access or constructing fill stations that contractors can use to access water rather than hooking up into hydrants. City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said the city will decide what the best course of action is based on the cost and effectiveness. She did not have an estimate for how much such technology could cost but said it would be paid for through City of Spokane Water Department revenues. However, she acknowledged that regardless, in order for the change to be effective, the cost would likely be in the million-dollar range. Feist said a reasonable estimate of the cost of the Hillyard incident is about $50,000, though this is not exact.
Instituting more secure systems would be more an investment in assuring clean water than saving the city money, she said. The company whose trucks allowed the backflow is still unknown, nearly six weeks after the contamination. Feist said the incident is still under investigation with help from the Spokane Police Department, though she and Spokane Police Department spokesman Terry Preuninger both noted that it's not a formal criminal investigation. The fact that the responsible party still hasn't come forward could ultimately land them in even more trouble.
"If you know you've caused a problem, you should tell somebody. So now it's been weeks. So that might be some of their reticence in coming forward," Feist said. Nearby Post Falls has had locks on its hydrants for nearly 20 years. Matthew Isch, chief operator of the city’s Water Division, said that the city physically installed locks on all of the hydrants, with each one taking a few minutes each. Anyone who wants to use the hydrant must take out a permit with the city. An employee then inspects the vehicles for backflow protections devices and unlocks the hydrants. The city does even share locks with the fire departments and tells them to cut it off in case of emergency. Post Falls has tried using meters and other devices, similar to Coeur d’Alene, but found that they were often vandalized, Isch said. “We always say [to the public], ‘If you see something that looks odd, say something,’” Isch said. As it stands, Spokane requires companies to seek permits for hydrant access, and those permits require proof of employee training and possession of backflow prevention equipment.
But the hydrants are technically accessible to basically anybody. Without locks, all it requires are a few specialized tools to open a cap and turn on the water.