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Test Results Today Could Clear Washington Water for Drinking

December 11, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nearly 1 million residents of the nation’s capital and its suburbs remained under a ″boil-water advisory″ for a fourth day today as officials sought to confirm the safety of the water supply.

A first round of tests on water from a treatment plant run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found no trace of the parasite cryptosporidium, which can cause severe intestinal problems.

But an advisory issued Wednesday urging people to boil all water used for drinking or cooking remained in effect pending the outcome of a second round of tests. Officials said results from those tests could be available today and if negative could lead to a lifting of the alert.

However, Stuart Kerzner, drinking water specialist for the Environmental Protection Agency, said authorities would not cancel the alert until they are certain no one has become sick from the microscopic pest. Doctors at area hospitals are testing patients from the last three days who have had intestinal troubles.

Another condition for lifting the alert is an assurance that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified the trouble at the treatment plant and has taken steps to fix it, Kerzner said in an interview Friday.

Excessive cloudiness, or turbidity, of the water from the Dalecarlia treatment plant had raised initial concerns about the possible presence of cryptosporidium. That is the parasite that sickened 400,000 Milwaukee residents last spring and killed about 50 immune-impaired people.

Col. Richard Capka of the Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the Dalecarlia plant, said the slow response of plant operators played a role in the water alert.

″There was not a proper and timely response to the rising turbidity levels in the raw water from the Potomac River,″ said Capka said. ″This lack of response resulted in the turbidity levels in the treated water exceeding EPA standards,″ he said.

He said the staff should have increased the amount of aluminum sulfate added to the water entering the plant when the turbidity increase was noted. Aluminum sulfate causes particulate matter to precipitate out of the water in sedimentation basins.

Capka said he did not yet know whether the problem stemmed mostly from human error or faulty plant procedure.

Capka said an independent contractor has been brought in to study how the Corps of Engineers operated the water treatment facility. He said that so far no disciplinary action has been taken.

District and federal officials said the water cloudiness was probably caused by heavy rains that triggered soil runoff into the Dalecarlia reservoir, overwhelming its filtration system. The fear was that runoff could carry animal waste that could contain cryptosporidium.

The EPA advisory, affecting most of Washington, parts of suburban northern Virginia and a sliver of Maryland, caused considerable inconvenience. Residents boiled their tap water, restaurants stocked bottled water and cafeterias turned off soda machines. Grocery stores scrambled to keep bottled water on the shelves, and one national water company planned a second shipment to the capital.

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