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Water alert re-issued for Oregon capital area

June 6, 2018
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In this photo taken May 29, 2018, Juana Francisco loads her trunk with water purchased at WinCo. Officials in Salem, Ore., re-issued a limited no-drink warning Wednesday, June 6, 2018, for tap water in the state's capital city, reinstating guidelines lifted only days before advising medically sensitive groups to find other water sources. (Mark Ylen/Albany Democrat-Herald via AP)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A limited no-drink warning for tap water in and around the Oregon state capital was re-issued Wednesday, reinstating for at least two days guidelines advising medically sensitive people to find other water sources as a city spokesman acknowledged a lag in testing for toxins in the water.

The advisory, linked to toxins caused by algae, warns children under 6, people with liver conditions or compromised immune systems, on dialysis, or pregnant or breastfeeding not to drink Salem’s tap water.

The re-issued alert also highlighted a delay in reporting of toxin levels: Elevated toxins in water samples collected Sunday and Monday did not prompt an advisory until Wednesday.

Officials won’t know if Tuesday’s water samples were completely safe until test results are received Thursday, said Kenny Larson, a Salem city spokesman.

Mark Aubel, a chemist and head of a private Florida-based lab that performs the type of tests being used to monitor the city’s drinking water, said there’s no reason testing on the city’s water samples should take longer than a day.

Aubel said his own lab is able to receive municipal water samples via overnight mail and perform the tests the same day, transmitting the results back to city officials within 24 hours of when the sample went in the mail. More than 20 labs are listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as performing what Aubel described as the relevant tests.

Larson said the city is using a lab in Ohio that can’t guarantee results in less than 72 hours.

Officials will look for two days of test results below safe limits for the toxins before lifting the advisory. With Wednesday’s results not expected until Friday, officials won’t be lifting the alert any earlier than the end of the week, Larson said.

Officials issued a similar warning May 29. That warning remained in place through June 2, when officials said toxins had dropped to safe levels.

The warning issued Wednesday also applied to water in Turner, Oregon, and the Orchard Heights water district.

Meanwhile the Oregon Health Authority will soon require routine testing of water sources for toxins after contaminated water was discovered in Salem.

The Statesman Journal reported the new rules aimed at major drinking water systems in the state will be stricter than federal guidelines.

State health officials hope to install temporary rules by the end of the month that will require local officials to notify the public of test results.

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