At least 24 hours after officials learned of E. coli contamination – and initially said it was confined to three city-owned facilities in West Baltimore – the Department of Public Works (DPW) has issued a “boil water advisory” for 54 square blocks of Harlem Park and the southern part of Sandtown-Winchester.
Officials said late today that the advisory affects approximately 1,500 residential and commercial buildings located within the impacted area:
• Riggs Avenue on the north and West Franklin Street on the south,
• Pulaski Street on the west and North Carey Street on the east.
But as a “precautionary” measure, DPW also advises residents in a much larger swath of the metropolitan region to boil water as well.
That area, according to a map released by the agency (see above), includes west and southwest Baltimore and stretches into the Baltimore County communities of Arbutus, Halethorpe and Lansdowne as well as Linthicum Heights in Anne Arundel County.
UPDATE: In spite of what the map appears to indicate, “no water from the City of Baltimore entered the Anne Arundel County public water supply system,” according to Jeff Amoros, spokesman for the Anne Arundel County executive’s office told us tonight. “No Anne Arundel County public water customers need to boil water.”
• DPW corrects a mistake: Updated DPW “boil water” map now excludes Anne Arundel County (9/6/2)
The map indicates that recent samples from those areas came back negative.
E. coli is a bacteria that can be relatively harmless, causing brief diarrhea, but can also result in more serious symptoms, including severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.
In order to kill the bacteria, people in the affected area should bring water to a rolling boil for one minute, then cool it before use, a DPW press release issued a little after 4:30 p.m. said.
The release said boiled water should be used not only for drinking but for:
• brushing teeth, washing fruits and vegetables. preparing baby food and formula, making ice, washing dishes and food preparation.
The release also advises residents to discard all stored water, drinks or ice made recently, while noting that boiled water can be in a clean container with a cover.
Confusing DPW Tweets
The latest health advisory came with some additional details about an incident most of the public learned about from a series of tweets from DPW headlined “water sampling notice.”
The contamination was discovered as part of DPW’s routine monitoring and sampling of drinking water, the agency said.
“The routine testing consists of 90 unique sample locations and 360 samples being collected on a monthly basis.”
This morning’s tweet explained that E. coli had been detected at three locations:
Baltimore Fire Department Engine 8 station at 1503 West Lafayette Avenue, the Police Department Western District building at 1034 North Mount Street and a location at 920 North Carey Street.
But instead of explaining that these locations were water sampling sites, indicating a problem in a much broader area, the agency said the bacterial contamination had occurred at only those places.
“Right now, the impact appears only at the facilities listed above, and they are being told to use water for flushing only,” @BaltimoreDPW tweeted.
That left many residents wondering if they should be avoiding their tap water as well.
Some were additionally frustrated with the agency’s suggestion on Twitter that residents “may want to consider boiling any water used from faucets.”
With the safety of their water in question, many in the affected neighborhood accepted bottled water that city staffers were handing out this afternoon. Some reported that senior citizens were unable to get to the neighborhood water distribution areas.
Mayor Scott Responds
As this was playing out, Councilmen Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Zeke Cohen called on Mayor Brandon Scott and DPW to provide answers to citizens wondering what areas of the city – possibly theirs – might be affected by the E. coli outbreak.
Shortly after 3 p.m., Scott issued a statement saying the contamination was “limited to a specific area,” but didn’t say what it was.
About an hour-and-a-half later, DPW issued the boil water advisory that included specific boundaries.
Asked to confirm reports that Scott was attending the Orioles home game at Camden Yards this afternoon, spokeswoman Monica Lewis said she was unable to do so at the moment and said the question was “unfair.”
“It’s a holiday, and the mayor did not have a public schedule today,” Lewis said.
“But I can tell you he has been actively engaged in this, gotten regular updates, has been on regular calls – multiple calls – and has issued a statement. So I’m not sure why this is pertinent.”