by Sara Mead
I just received the following letter from the Washington Acqueduct and the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. I’m totally perplexed by it:
An equipment problem cause elevated turbidity on December 22, 2008 in water produces by the McMillan Water Treatment Plant. Continuous monitoring enabled us to detect and resolve the problem within 14 miutes. The problem began when in the automatic mode, the filter effluent valves opened wider than expected. It was resolved by the operator assuming manual control of the filters and closing the effluent valves to the proper setting. The short duration of the elevated turbidity reduces the public health risk, but it is very important to read the following information. This is not an emergency. It is had been, you would have been notified immediately. You do not need to boil your water or take other actions.
Normal turbidity levels at the McMillan Water Treatment Plant are less than 0.1 turbidity units. A water sample taken December 22 showed levels of greater than 1 turbidity unit. This was above the regulatory standard of 1 turbidity unit. Because of these high levels of turbidity, there is an increased chance that the water may have contained disease-causing organisms.
Turbidity has no health effects. However turbidity can interfere with disinfection and provide a medium for microbial growth. Turbidity may indicate the presence of disease-causing organisms. These organisms include bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches.
Individuals with extremely compromised immune systems may have been at an increased risk of gastrointestinal illness. Anyone that has concern should contact their health care provider.
Please share this information with all the other people who drink this water, especially those who may not have received this notice directly (for example, people in apartments, nursing homes, schools and businesses). You can do this by posting this notice in a public place or distributing copies by hand or mail.
For more information, please write to Mr. Thomas acobus, General Manager of the Washington Acqueduct, 5900 MacArthur Boulevard, NW, Washington, DC 20016. The phone number is 202-764-0031. e-mail: email@example.com
This notice is being sent to you by Washington Acqueduct, Public Water System ID3: DC 0000001.
Date distributed: December 30, 2008.
I suppose posting this fulfills the instruction to share this information with all other people who drink this water, but I’m really doing so because–WTF? Is this some kind of bizarre chain letter (It’s on DC WASA and Army Corps of Engineers letterhead)? If there really was a minor problem that was resolved in 14 minutes several weeks ago, why are they telling me about it now? What is turbidity anyway? If I don’t need to boil my water or take other action, and the situation is resolved, why did an accompanying letter from DC WASA insist that “It is important that you read he enclosed notice” (doesn’t seem to have told me anything useful!)? Is it really safe for me to drink DC water? Or is this another reason I should ignore Mark Bittman?
FWIW, I’m going to continue in my normal water consuming practices, which include drinking refrigerated DC tap water on a regular basis, and pretend I never got this letter. But–wtf?