E. Coli Detection Leads to Boil Water Alerts in 2 Mississippi Cities

The presence of the bacteria indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal waste
E. Coli Detection Leads to Boil Water Alerts in 2 Mississippi Cities
A microbiologist points out an isolated E. coli growth on an agar plate from a patient specimen at the Washington State Dept. of Health in Shoreline, Wash. on Nov. 3, 2015, (The Canadian Press/AP/Elaine Thompson)
Aldgra Fredly

Mississippi health officials issued boil water alerts for the cities of Jackson and Flowood on Jan. 11 after traces of E. coli bacteria were detected during routine water sampling.

“Health officials strongly recommend that all water be boiled vigorously for one minute before it is consumed,” the state’s health department said in an advisory.

The presence of E. coli indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal waste, which generally results from “a problem with the treatment process or pipes which distribute the water,” according to the advisory.

“The United States Environmental Protection Agency sets drinking water standards and has determined that the presence of E. coli is a serious health concern,” it stated.

Microbes in waste material can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, and other symptoms, posing health risks, especially for infants, young children, and people with severely compromised immune systems.

The department said that it was expediting the tests of new samples from both cities. The alerts will be lifted after two consecutive days of clear testing are obtained.

“The safety and protection of the public is the top priority of the Mississippi State Department of Health,” it said in a press release.

Health officials also said there was no contamination of the samples during lab processing and that “the results are not false positives.”

“MPHL (Mississippi Public Health Laboratory) leadership staff has done a preliminary review of the lab protocols related to these results and are confident in their validity,” the department stated.

State Lab Likely Made ‘Mistakes’

JXN Water, which oversees Jackson’s water system, challenged the state lab results, saying it “stands on its compliance record for the past 12 months in consistently delivering safe drinking water to all customers.”

The company said it took regular monthly sampling from the distribution system at 120 locations across the city’s surface water system and tested them for bacteria (total coliform and E. coli) to ensure the water is safe.

JXN Water contractors collected the samples and delivered them to the state lab for analysis on Jan. 10.

Ted Henifin, interim third-party manager at JXN, suggested it is likely that an error was made at the state lab.

“Having positive results from any system is unusual, having two positives from two different water systems seems highly suspect,” Mr. Henifin said in a press release.

“Laboratories are not perfect. Mistakes are made. Typically, laboratories have standard operating procedures to validate sample results–especially unusual and unexpected results–before taking action.

“We requested the state lab do that before taking any action on the results from yesterday’s samples. They chose not to do that and issued a city-wide boil water notice,” he added.

JXN Water said it will resample all 120 locations for two consecutive days to clear samples and get the state-issued order lifted.