Delaware water problem : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

So far, water supplies stay safe Nevertheless, boiling is urged By KIM DOUGLASS Staff reporter 03/08/2000

There is no evidence that United Water of Delaware's water supply has been contaminated by a mechanical failure at a treatment plant Monday.

Nevertheless, state health officials are asking customers in the Claymont and Newark areas to continue boiling tap water they intend to consume until officials can say for certain everything is safe -- probably midday Thursday.

Officials are checking for the microorganisms giardia and cryptosporidium, which can cause diarrhea and cramps.

United, the state's third-largest water provider, serves about 100,000 residents. It has about 2,500 commercial, 69 industrial, 51 municipal and 31,000 residential customers.

The city of Newark uses some United water to supplement its supply from wells and the White Clay Creek. But Tuesday, city officials announced they were able temporarily to cut off their supply from United. That means Newark city residents do not need to boil water, assistant administrator Carol Houck said.

Public health and United officials late Monday and Tuesday contacted some larger users, including schools, industries such as the DuPont Co., restaurants and health-care providers.

Mostly, they have relied on the media to spread the word.

"We want to put people's minds at ease," United spokeswoman Joanne Rufft said. Though the concerns are serious, boiling water is a precaution more than anything, she said.

"If we had a toxic spill or that kind of imminent health threat, police would be out with bull horns, and we would be going door to door,"

Health Department spokeswoman Cindy Collier said.

Newark area resident Clara Rust, 60, said she was upset when she read about the potential problem in the newspaper Tuesday. There should be more ways to notify people, she said.

"I don't know what they can do, but in a case like this, where there could be harm to people, they should do something," she said.

Businesses in the area, such as the Arby's restaurant on Philadelphia Pike, are trying to cope. The restaurant bought ice from Pennsylvania and is selling cans of soda instead of water-based fountain drinks, according to manager Curtis Smith.

The Childco Caring Center day care south of Claymont is blocking use of water fountains and giving the children bottled water, director Nancy Zipfel said.

"It's just an inconvenience," she said.

The problem started about 10 a.m. Monday, when tests at the Stanton water plant showed high levels of turbidity, or excessive particles in the water.

The system was not producing enough of a particular filtration substance, Division of Public Health spokeswoman Allison Taylor Levine said.

The substance causes unwanted particles and organisms to clump so they cannot pass through filters.

The system was operating normally by 4 p.m. Monday.

But officials were worried that giardia and cryptosporidium could have passed into the system. The contaminants are normally not fatal but can cause diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal cramps and loss of appetite.

If someone were infected, it would take about a week to become ill because of the microorganisms' fairly long incubation period, Levine said.

State and United officials said they would continue to test the water for several days to ensure its safety.

C.P. Huang, a University of Delaware professor and chairman of the school's department of civil and environmental engineering, said he hopes some of his students' expertise will be used to deal with future problems.

Huang and some doctoral students have a federal grant to study the detection and treatment of giardia and cryptosporidium.

"Very often, it's very difficult to detect cryptosporidium," he said. "There are so many micro-organisms in the water. They are very small and very often when you go out and take a water sample, you don't know what you're getting.

"The method is still not perfected, in our opinion," Huang said.

Huang said his students have a device that has not been field-tested, but might be an effective way to find the unwanted organisms.

Rufft said she thinks United would be interested in learning more about the device.

United Water customers are advised to boil water for one minute for drinking, cooking, baking, brushing teeth, making ice cubes, mixing baby formula or food, feeding pets and all other forms of consumption.

Residents who are not certain whether they receive water from United should check their water bills or call the water company at 633-5900, Rufft said.

The company's Web site at also has information about the situation.

Rufft's office has been swamped with questions, so she asked that callers be patient.

"I had no idea how many people would respond to this," she said. "We're doing what we can to get the word out."

-- Martin Thompson (, March 08, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ