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Westmoreland authority upbeat after water passes 1st tests

| Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, 5:00 p.m.

The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is making progress toward its goal of lifting a three-day-old boil-water advisory by Tuesday.

Authority Manager Chris Kerr said on Sunday that the first set of tests conducted Saturday “came back good,” and a second round of analysis is expected to be completed on Monday.

That's hopeful news for about 125,000 Westmoreland County residents who were first advised Thursday evening by the authority not to consume water. The water poses a possible threat because a Bell Township water treatment plant was affected by algae containing potentially dangerous microscopic organisms.

Kerr said additional tests — which have a 24- hour incubation period — were being conducted Sunday, with results coming Monday. Water authority management staff met and “everything is moving according to schedule,” Kerr said.

The authority will schedule a news conference to announce the results of the tests.

“The first test results (Saturday) all came back showing no bacteriological growth on any of the test samples that were done,” Kerr said. “We're thinking positively that the second set will show the same thing.”

Until then, Westmoreland County residents in the Alle-Kiski Valley are stocking up on bottled water.

Bill Naser of Naser Foods said his Apollo location has sold about five times more bottled water than average since the authority released the advisory on Thursday.

After ordering 140 cases of water on Saturday, Naser said he was left with fewer than 50 on Sunday afternoon. He couldn't estimate how many cases he's sold total since the water crisis, but said the store has cleared nine pallets worth of bottled water, each stocked several feet high with cases.

“I've been selling a ton of water, but it hasn't really been a money maker,” he said. “I'm just buying enough water to keep up. People have been buying it like crazy since they sent the warning out.”

The authority told members of 50,000 households in 33 municipalities in Westmoreland, Armstrong, Indiana and Allegheny counties on Thursday to boil water before consuming it. Some residents received robocalls, while others remained confused whether they are affected by the precaution.

No phone call

Beverly Gettert of Kiski Township never got the call from the water authority. She and her husband drank the water and brushed their teeth with it on Thursday night before their daughter in Apollo called to notify them of the situation.

“It's really frustrating,” she said. “You'd think they would stop at nothing to let everyone know that there's a problem. If it wasn't for my daughter, my husband and I would still probably be drinking it.”

Officials attributed the confusion to an ever-changing system that provides customers with water from more than one treatment plant.

The authority said mainly households north of Route 30 receive water from the Beaver Run Reservoir where a sand-and-gravel filter at the George R. Sweeney Treatment Plant was affected by algae containing microscopic materials, such as cryptosporidium, that should not be in consumable water. Officials are testing for the waterborne parasite.

Symptoms of human exposure to the parasite are flu-like: cramping, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Area hospitals did not see any affected patients Sunday, said Excela Health spokeswoman Jennifer Miele.

But Donna Gray, 71, of Apollo claims that her water caused the flu-like symptoms that she struggled with last week.

“I was drinking the water all week until Thursday evening,” she said. “At first, I thought I had the flu, but then I realized with how fast it was out of my system that it had to be something else.”

Kerr said on Thursday that the filtration deficiency which caused the problem could have occurred at one of seven filtration units in the four days leading up to the alert.

Gray claims the water she drank on Tuesday was contaminated and the source of her two-day illness.

“They're saying that it could have happened within a 96-hour period,” she said. “Do the math. What I'm really worried about, though, is how the parasite could affect my two dogs, who were also drinking the water.”

Pet owners should take the same precautions and give their pets boiled or bottled water, said Lori Mozina-Ogurchak, coordinator of Westmoreland County Animal Response Team.

“A lot of the things that affect humans are going to affect animals,” she said. “For pets, they don't go through that much water per day, so it's just playing it safe.”

If the second round of water testing comes back OK Monday, the Department of Environmental Protection would have to verify the results before the advisory could be lifted.

Schools reopen

The Apollo-Ridge, Kiski Area and Leechburg Area school districts will be in session Monday despite the four-day water alert from the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.

Officials from each school district, which closed Friday, indicated that all precautions are being taken to comply with the county water alert.

The Apollo-Ridge School District will provide its students with bottled water, according to school board member Paul King. He said cafeteria meals will be prepared with the necessary precautions and that students will use paper plates and disposable utensils.

The district will shut down its water fountains and provide students with hand sanitizer in the bathrooms to avoid faucet use, he said.

Calls made to several Kiski Area and Leechburg Area school district officials on Sunday went unanswered.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or

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