A positive test for E.coli bacteria prompted local officials to issue a boil water notice in Petersburg Thursday afternoon. According Borough Public Works Director Karl Hagerman, the results came from routine samples taken the day before from Petersburg’s water supply:

“We received word from Petersburg medical center that our routine water samples tested positive for total coliform bacteria and when that happens, the hospital does a further testing on the sample to determine whether E.coli is present and the sample also tested positive for E.coli”

So, the borough put out a notice telling all Petersburg residents to boil their tap water for two minutes. That includes water for drinking, brushing teeth, and food preparation. According to Hagerman, home water filters do not necessarily get rid of E.coli:

“When we issue a boil water notice, that’s what you should do. Do not rely on a home filter system to filter out any bacteria.”

Along with informing the public, Hagerman said the borough notified the state and took new samples to retest the water. He said the fact that the original sample came up positive for bacteria didn’t mean that the whole system was contaminated. He said there are many other ways a sample can be contaminated, which is why they are doing more testing on the water supply:

“It’s to verify that either the system is contaminated with some bacteria or not, that its safe for everybody to drink. And so when that retesting is done, we’ll have more information on the cleanliness, the safety of the system. I’m confident that this was a probably a sampling anomaly but the safe thing to do in these situations is to issue boil water notices and make sure that any water that’s ingested from the system is disinfected properly so that nobody gets sick.”

Hagerman expected it would take about a day to get results from the new tests. So, he was hopeful they would be available by Friday afternoon. He said the boil water notice would remain in effect at least until then.

Meanwhile, Both of Petersburg’s grocery stores ran out of bottled water Thursday and were ordering more. Petersburg schools are holding classes as usual Friday. They had planned to bring in filtered water from out the road but instead are providing bottled water to kids in the elementary school. The district asked middle and high school students to bring their own bottles of potable water to drink.

E.coli bacteria comes from human or animal waste. Some strains can cause serious illness, particularly among very young children and the elderly.

You can listen to the full interview with Karl Hagerman below:
For mobile-frindly audio, click here.
You can read the Borough’s boil water notice here.
There’s a longer version available here.
The Alaska Department of environmental Conservation also has this fact sheet on boil water notices.