PORTLAND, Ore. - The Portland Water Bureau has issued a "Boil Water Notice" to its customers west of the Willamette River - four days after a sample contaminated by fecal matter was pulled from a Washington Park reservoir. Map of affected areas below.
"This notice applies to you if your bill comes from the Valley View Water District, the Burlington Water District, the Palatine Hill Water District or the West Portland district," said Portland Mayor Sam Adams in a press conference held Saturday afternoon. "If you do not receive a bill from any of these four water districts, then this requirement does not apply to you."
The West Portland district reportedly includes the Northwest Portland and Southwest Portland areas, with some restaurants closing now in the Pearl District and downtown as precaution. Authorities said it impacts more than 100,000 homes. Multnomah County's Water District Map
Boil water, throw out ice
The Boil Water Notice is in effect immediately and will continue until further sampling indicates the absence of E. coli or other contaminants. Restaurants and residents with ice-making refrigerators are being asked to dispose of any ice made with possibly contaminated water. Contamination was first detected the day before Thanksgiving.
No illness has been linked to this to date. Hospitals and elderly care centers were notified first of the boil-water requirement on Saturday.
Routine water quality samples found fecal contamination in Washington Park's Reservoir 3 - an open reservoir - on Wednesday. A second test on Saturday, Nov. 28, indicated Escherichia coli - commonly known as E. coli - in that reservoir. The Portland Water Bureau took the reservoir out of service Saturday morning and is in the process of draining it.
"We're dealing with a first here," said one health authority. "We have had E. coli hits in the past, but there has never been a positive resampling."
Since 1990, the Portland Water Bureau reportedly has had E. coli show up in test samples 14 times.
What could happen?
According to Portland Water Bureau documents, fecal coliforms and E. coli are bacteria whose presence indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes. Microbes in these waters can cause short-term effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, some of the elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems.
All tap water within the defined area used for drinking, food preparation, and ice should be boiled at a full rolling boil for at least one minute. Ice or any beverages prepared with un-boiled tap water should be discarded.
Although the specific strain of E. coli is not known, the bureau said that the worst strains associated with serious public illness generally are not found in drinking water supplies.
“If there are health effects from drinking water contamination, we expect them to be diarrhea and belly ache,” said Dr. Paul Lewis, deputy health officer for Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties, in a press release. “Although we are hopeful that the contaminated water will not affect peoples’ health, diarrhea can be a bigger problem for young children and people who have weakened immune systems.
E. coli bacteria detected on the monitoring tests may not be the same as the more notorious E. coli O157:H7, a cause of serious bacterial diarrhea. Lewis and his staff are working with area medical practitioners regarding symptoms and appropriate treatments.
Follow-up samples at locations upstream and downstream of Reservoir 3 were negative for bacteria. In addition, further samples are being collected throughout the distribution system downstream of Reservoir 3.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set an enforceable drinking water standard for total coliforms to reduce the risk of adverse health effects. Under this standard, all drinking water shall be free of these bacteria.
“Although these bacteria are generally not harmful, their presence in drinking water could indicate harmful organisms might have entered the distribution system," said Chris Wanner, Operations Director for the bureau. "So we are taking every precaution to protect our customers.”
The Water Bureau is conducting further sampling throughout the affected to isolate the source of contamination. Customers in the affected areas should follow boil water precautions until the bureau announces that the water supply has returned to a safe condition. The next set of sampling results will be available in the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 29.
What should I do? What does this mean to me?
If you use tap water in the impacted areas, do not drink the water without boiling it first - or use bottled water. Boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation until further notice. The bureau said that unboiled water still can be used for taking a shower, washing a car, and other non-consumption uses.
Bring all water to a rolling boil for one minute, and let it cool before using, or use bottled water. Boiling kills bacteria and other organisms in the water.
Portland Water Bureau authorities ask those reading this message to share this message with others who drink this water, especially those who may not have received this notice directly (for example, people in apartments, nursing homes, schools, and businesses).
- Multnomah County's Water District Map
- What does a boil-water order mean?
- The Portland Water Bureau online
- The Portland Water Bureau's phone hotline: (503) 823-7770
- EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline: 1 (800) 426-4791. Here you'll find general guidelines on ways to lessen the risk of infection by microbes.
- When will Portland's boil-water order be lifted?
Updated map provided by the Portland Water Bureau: