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Westmoreland municipal authority hoping to lift boil-water advisory Tuesday

| Monday, Oct. 28, 2013, 7:17 a.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Assistant manager Jeff Jackson of Export washes his hands frequently with alcohol-based hand sanitizer while working Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, at Fox's Pizza Den in Delmont.

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 a first set of tests “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 whom the authority advised on Thursday evening to not consume water because a Bell Township 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 on Sunday, with results coming on 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 tests 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.”

Schools, restaurants, residents and retirement communities have been scrambling to form back-up plans that included purchasing bottled water and hand sanitizer and boiling large amounts of water. Restaurants such as Ianni's Pizzeria in Delmont resorted to shutting down fountain drink machines and providing customers with disposable plates and silverware.

Part-owner and manager Wesley Harris said the pizzeria didn't open on Friday, typically the business's busiest day.

“We didn't know how we were going to handle it,” he said.

Pizza making resumed on Saturday and Sunday, and bottled water was purchased to serve to restaurant guests, he said. Other than boiling a small amount of water to wash pizza pans, “we just don't use any water,” Harris said.

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

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.

Hospitals did not have any affected patients on Sunday, said Excela Health spokeswoman Jennifer Miele.

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 on Monday, the Department of Environmental Protection would have to verify the results before the advisory could be lifted.

Until then, schools resuming classes can follow plans from Friday and restaurants can limp along on bottled or boiled water.

Several school districts posted notices on their websites notifying students and parents of alternate plans. Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional websites said school will continue as normal on Monday and students can bring water bottles. Lunch menus may be altered because of the advisory.

The Apollo-Ridge, Kiski Area and Leechburg Area school districts will be in session Monday. Officials from each school district, which closed Friday, indicated that all precautions are being taken to comply with the water alert.

Jeff Jackson, manager of Fox's Pizza in Delmont, said employees there are using hand sanitizer. Bottled water is being used to clean dishes, he said.

As trays of chicken wings sat awaiting football-watching customers' orders, Jackson said business has been good.

“We've been a lot busier the last couple days” because other area establishments have remained closed, he said. “Between Friday and Saturday, we've had a pretty good weekend.”

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com. Staff writer Rossilynne Skena contributed to this report.

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