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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
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204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Officials agree: Boil notice was confusing

Tuesday, July 16, 2013



Bulletin Staff Writer

A recent public notice encouraging Martinsville residents to boil their tap water was confusing, city and state officials have acknowledged.

Michael Painter, a district engineer with the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water in Danville, said that in the future, the office will try to do a better job of specifying who is affected when water lines break.

After a water main broke Friday near the Memorial Boulevard/Bridge Street intersection, causing a drop in water pressure, the notice was issued to alert nearby residents in Martinsville to boil water for drinking and cooking due to potential contamination that could make them sick.

The main was repaired that day, and the notice was lifted Monday morning after no bacteria was found in laboratory tests. Two tests had to be done, and each took 24 hours to complete, according to city officials.

Andy Lash, the city’s water resources superintendent, said it had not been determined what caused the main to break.

A news release issued by the city on Friday stated that until the notice was lifted, city water customers in the surrounding area should boil water before drinking it or cooking with it, or use bottled water instead.

The Virginia Department of Health and Henry-Martinsville Health Department issued a “Notice to Customers of the City of Martinsville” accompanying the release. The notice read, in large, capital letters, “BOIL YOUR TAP WATER.”

The notice mentioned that a water line break near Memorial and Bridge led to “a significant loss of pressure isolated to that area ... not the entire city.” But it did not specifically say that only city water customers in that part of Martinsville needed to boil their water.

Neither Lash nor Painter were in their offices Friday afternoon and did not know exact circumstances surrounding the break or the notice issued.

Lash said, however, the city received about 100 calls from residents citywide who were confused by the notice and wondering if they were affected by it.

“It probably would have helped ... if the notice had distinguished” that only people near the location of the break needed to boil water, Painter said.

The city’s release, published in the Martinsville Bulletin, specified streets where residents needed to be concerned.

Notices were posted on doors of homes in the affected area, Lash said. He said he did not know if they were copies of the same notice that the health department sent out, but if they were not, he thinks they were similar.

Yet the health department’s notice encouraged people to share it with others, especially people who may not have received it directly, such as residents of apartment complexes and nursing homes.

When water lines break, it is decided “on a case by case basis” whether the public, or just people in the surrounding area, are notified and encouraged to boil water, Painter said.

Various factors are taken into account, he said, including how many people live nearby and how the line is repaired.

But in the case of broken water mains, usually “we don’t take any chances” and notify the public at large because they are major lines, said Chris Garrett, an emergency planner for the local health department.

It is “a protective measure,” he said.


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