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Some missed in Westmoreland boil-water alerts

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 6:51 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Broiler chef, 'not boiler chef,' Kevin Young of Delmont boils water, 60 gallons at a time, for later use on Saturday, October 26, 2013, at the Lamplighter in Delmont.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Waitress Katie Butina, 17, of Irwin prepares to make coffee with water that had been boiled for the purpose while Maddy Tatosian, 18, of Delmont holds a bottle of water to be given to customers on Saturday, October 26, 2013, at the Lamplighter in Delmont.

A day and a half after a boil-water alert was issued for about 125,000 Westmoreland County residents, Denise Merrill was still searching for answers about what to do.

Her North Huntingdon neighbors, some just a stone's throw away, received robocalls alerting them to take precautions, but she didn't.

“It's just frustrating. This is a serious matter. The municipal authority needs to have a better emergency plan than what's in place,” said Merrill, who lives along Barnes Lake Road.

Merrill was just one of many area residents waiting for information Saturday about whether they are affected by the alert issued by the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County on Thursday evening.

The authority told those in 50,000 households in 33 municipalities in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties to boil their water before drinking it because potentially dangerous microscopic organisms were found in the water supply. Experts said the organisms could cause gastrointestinal illnesses. So far, no illnesses linked to the water supply have been reported, officials at area hospitals said.

Authority assistant manager Tom Ceraso said some of the confusion stems from the fact that some areas in the same municipality may be served by different water lines.

Neighboring communities of Southwest Greensburg and South Greensburg, divided from the city by merely a street, are not under the boil water advisory because the lines are separate, Ceraso said.

Based on a map provided by the municipal authority, the majority of customers north of Route 30 receive water from the Beaver Run Reservoir, while the majority of customers south of Route 30 receive their water from the Indian Creek Treatment Plant near Connellsville.

Chris Kerr, authority manager, said that some of the water from the Beaver Run Reservoir does flow to customers south of Route 30, depending on usage and demands. Kerr said the authority is regulating its pump stations to minimize that water flow from Beaver Run to customers south of Route 30.

“It's not a perfect boundary,” Kerr said.

On Friday, officials indicated that those living north of Route 30 in the county should boil water, but officials at Seton Hill University and Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital — both located north of Route 30 — have been told they are not included in the alert.

Tests of water samples from the Beaver Run Reservoir in Bell were conducted Saturday morning, following a 24-hour flushing of the water authority's system, Ceraso said.

The authority will not know the results of Saturday's water sample tests until Sunday because the samples need a 24-hour incubation period, Kerr said.

If those test results are found to be clean, Ceraso said another series of tests will be conducted Sunday by the authority's laboratory at the reservoir. The results of those tests would be known on Monday.

If the results of those tests are clean, the state Department of Environmental Protection would have to verify the results before the boil-water advisory could be lifed. Ceraso said the authority is hoping to get the approval to lift the boil-water advisory by Tuesday.

Officials learned Thursday afternoon that a sand-and-gravel filter at the George R. Sweeney Treatment Plant was affected by algae containing microscopic materials.

Meanwhile, over in North Huntingdon, Merrill said she decided to buy bottled water rather than risk getting sick, even though she lives south of Route 30.

“I'm assuming I'm in a bad area,” Merrill said when she heard her neighbors being warned of the potentially bad water.

In the meantime, area residents and businesses are adjusting to the inconvenience.

At the Lamplighter along Route 22 in Salem, Kevin Young, who is a broiler chef in the kitchen, has been busy being the restaurants's “boiler,” responsible for heating 30-gallon vats of water to keep the eatery open.

The huge vessels typically are used to cook sauces but have been pressed into service to boil the water needed to cook and clean. It takes up to 30 minutes to boil that much water before it can be used, Young said.

“I've been doing it all day long. It's a lot more work,” Young said.

The restaurant serves bottled water to customers, who eat on paper plates.

“It takes so much longer to do all of the chores,” said Debbie Crisman, Lamplighter manager.

At the nearby Picante Mexican Grille, manager Helius Mucino was unloading bags of ice and jugs of water in order to serve customers.

Because lettuce is a staple of Mexican food and it takes so much water to clean lettuce, Mucino said the taco salad has been eliminated from the menu.

“We have to pick and choose” what can be served from the menu, said Mucino, who drove to Latrobe to buy bags of ice because of the dwindling supply.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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