Water warning in effect in parts of Armstrong County

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 1:13 p.m.

Pennsylvania American Water lifted its ban on water usage Friday evening for 2,100 residents of Kittanning, Applewold and portions of Manor and Rayburn.

However, the company has issued an advisory for residents to boil their water only for drinking until further notice.

The water company issued the first alert Friday around 11 a.m. urging residents not to use water from its Rayburn plant for drinking, bathing, hand-washing, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, cooking or food preparation until further notice.

Then, Friday evening, the water company lifted the ban and advised residents to boil their water for at least a minute before using it for drinking, making ice, washing dishes, brushing teeth and food preparation until further notice.

Residents are also urged to drain and refill their water heater; flush hot and cold water systems for at least five minutes, and discard any items made with the water after 5 a.m. Friday.

The water advisory could stay in effect for the next 24 to 36 hours, according to Gary Lobaugh, spokesman for Pennsylvania American Water.

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spokesman John Poister said initial indications are Penn American used too much caustic soda, a chemical used in treating water, but the DEP had not yet been informed of how that happened. Poister said the company reported the affected water appears to have been contained at the treatment plant and didn't get distributed through the lines.

“They were able to divert the (tainted) water into a clear well, what I would call a holding tank, and they've pumped regular water around that and they were able to isolate it,” Poister said.

“They suspected that some of this high pH water may have gone to an area known as Troy Hill (in Rayburn), but they've taken some readings there and it appears OK,” Poister said.

In a press release, Lobaugh said that because of the shutdown, a loss of positive water pressure could cause contamination to enter the water distribution system. Given those risks, the water company issued the advisory for residents to boil their water.

The company is collecting and analyzing additional water quality samples.

Randy Brozenick, director of Armstrong County Emergency Management, said he is not yet certain what caused the problem with the pH: “We can't seem to get a clear answer” from Pennsylvania American.

Armstrong County county set up water buffaloes at the Armstrong County Health Center, 265 South McKean St., Kittanning; the Applewold Volunteer Fire Department, 300 Ridge Ave.; and Kittanning Hose Co. 6, 1360 Orr Ave.

Kittanning declared a state of emergency and cancelled Friday's holiday parade.

Lobaugh said in a release that sample results received on Friday showed higher than normal levels of pH that exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's health advisory level of 10.

Kait Gillis, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said there have been no reports of people being sickened by the tainted water.

She said anyone drinking water with elevated pH would immediately experience a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, likely preventing further consumption.

“It's a temporary discomfort and would not cause permanent damage,” she said.

Poister said an estimated 6,000 residents are impacted. In Manor, only the Typewriter Hill neighborhood was affected.

Customers in the affected areas will experience low water pressure and fire hydrants will not have water until the problem is resolved.

Once service is restored, Brozenick said it could take four days for the water to begin running as normal. Customers might have very low pressure, but would still have water, he said.

Brigid Beatty, Liz Hayes and Jodi Weigand are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Beatty can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com. Hayes can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com. Weigand can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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