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Fulton E. coli Source Points to Water-Main

Oct 27, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Last week we reported that a boil water advisory was in place in Fulton, New York when it was discovered that the water system there was contaminated with the E.coli bacteria.  Now, Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward believes that the E. coli contamination might have occurred due to water-main breaks during routine hydrant flushing.  “We had three water main breaks during the flushing on the east side,” Mayor Woodward said during a common council meeting last week. “We have 63 miles of water line in the city and some of them are 100 years old.”  The mayor also noted that if water pressure falls below 20 pounds during a water-main break, a boil-water advisory must be implemented.

Fulton flushes hydrants twice annually—in the spring and autumn.  Woodward pointed out that Fulton uses its supply of water from the Onondaga County Water Authority during its flushing program, and that supply can often remain untouched for six months to a year.  “Ninety-nine percent of the time, we never get a hit,” Mayor Woodward said. “Sometimes, you get one hit or something and we have to follow the protocol of the health department.”  E. coli was discovered in Fulton’s Sixth Ward and a sampling was delivered to the health department.  “It takes 24 hours for that test to react,” the mayor noted. “(Last) Friday, we were notified that there was a very small colony.”  The city then took water samples from the surrounding area.  “The county health department did the culture and Saturday we were notified,” he said.

During the meeting, area residents questioned how the public is notified on an issue such as a boil-water advisory.  “There are things that could have been done better,” acknowledged Mayor Woodward. “I can tell you that we notified all the media. We did exactly what we could do.”  The city also made phone calls to the hospital and to the school district. “We called industries that use water like Birdseye.  We called St. Luke, Fulton hospital, Towpath Towers. I don’t know what more we could do.”

But, one resident urged the city to speed up its process of creating a city Website as a notification method, complaining that she heard of the advisory from someone else, who heard about it on the news.  If the problem had been deemed more serioius, the city could have shut down the entire water system as a way to prevent residents from drinking the water, however, “We would not have the capability to fight fires,” Mayor Woodward said.  “Unfortunately, things like this cause a lot of concern. If we thought it was critical … we would have done more.”

Another resident stated that the water department had no one available to answer questions from the public and noted that the department’s answering machine message directed questions to the city police department, which did not have a lot of information.  According to the mayor, water-department employees were out of the office collecting samples and performing other water-related duties, but said the city will look into recording answering machine messages that advise the public on what to do and what not to do.

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