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Tupelo’s boil water notice: caused by bad water or bad testing?

Boil water notice Boil water alert for Tupelo

UPDATE:   Tupelo’s “Boil Water” notice was lifted on Saturday October 21st, with comments from officials indicating the problem stemmed from sampling errors, not from problems with the water itself. 


People in Tupelo have been told that their drinking water failed a health test and are warned not to drink it straight from the tap. City officials hope the “boil water notice” can be lifted sometime tomorrow (Saturday)

The Mississippi State Health Department said yesterday morning (Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017) that E. coli bacteria were found in a sample of water from Tupelo’s water supply. The health department warned against drinking the water unless it had been “boiled vigorously for at least one minute,” which is said to kill the bacteria. The warning is believed to apply to nearly 40,000 people.

Many Tupelo restaurants and bars are closed, and bottled water has disappeared from store shelves. At least one school closed for the day on Friday. Tupelo officials say that further testing is being done at the state lab. They hope that the “boil water notice” could be lifted tomorrow (Saturday), if all samples are clear from two consecutive sampling days.

Some strains of E. coli (Escherichia coli), a bacterium found in the gut of warm-blooded animals, can cause serious, even fatal, health problems in humans.  The E. coli is expelled with the animals’ fecal matter. Symptoms may include stomach cramps, diarrhea, fatigue and fever. It is particularly dangerous to children, the elderly or anyone whose health is otherwise compromised.

There is no evidence that the water supplied to New Albany residents has or has ever had E.coli bacteria. There are widespread complaints about New Albany’s water being discolored by minerals, but no health risks are known to be present. All of  New Albany’s water comes from deep wells.

Tupelo water, on the other hand, is drawn from the Tombigbee River and treated in a plant at Peppertown. None of Tupelo’s water comes from wells.

Tupelo officials say that the E. coli bacteria were found in only one of the many samples of water taken from the system Tuesday, Oct. 17. They have indicated their belief that the presence of E. coli may have been because of an error in the samples taken in Tupelo or the testing done in Jackson.

The Tupelo hospital has said it has seen no increases in patients with complaints that could have been caused by bad water.

According to published sources, samples of Tupelo water are routinely taken from numerous places around the city and are submitted to the state laboratory in Jackson for testing. In Mississippi samples of water are taken regularly from every water system for testing. The number of samples required varies according to the size of the system.  Tupelo, with its 40,000 or so people, typically submits water for testing from forty different faucets around the city.  New Albany Lights, Gas, and Water (NALGW), which furnishes water to about 4,300 customers, must submit samples from nine different sources around the city.

An additional 126 samples of Tupelo water — 63 Thursday and 63 more Friday — have been sent to the state lab and it is hoped that all will be found free of the E. coli organisms.

E. coli is a dangerous bacterium, which kills many people around the world every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that 420,00 people, 125,000 of them children, are killed every year by contaminated food and water.

Whether the problem is actual contamination in the water or is due to errors in sampling and/or testing, the fact that the boil water notice warning was necessary has caused widespread anxiety, inconvenience and economic loss to Tupelo’s residents and businesses.

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