Boil advisory lifted for St. Louis County after tests show water is safe
by Bryce Gray, originally posted on September 7, 2016
UPDATED at 8:35 a.m. with boil order lifted
Missouri American Water has lifted the boil order that affected tens of thousands of its customers in the St. Louis area.
The boil order was lifted at about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The water company announced on its Facebook page that “the water quality tests have confirmed the water is safe for consumption.”
Drinking fountains were sealed and sales of bottled water soared Tuesday after Missouri American Water customers in a large swath of St. Louis County to boil their water.
One school district even canceled classes for Wednesday because of the advisory.
The utility said the safety warning was a precaution being taken after a brief power outage disrupted water pressure in the area.
“We don’t have any evidence that the water system has any contaminants at all,” said Christie Barnhart, an external affairs manager for the company, said tuesday.
Barnhart acknowledged that the advisory was unusually widespread.
“This one’s pretty large,” said Barnhart. “Typically the areas affected are much smaller.”
The utility indicated that 85,000 customers were affected. Barnhart attributed the advisory’s magnitude to the fact that the power outage disrupted the utility’s largest water treatment plant in the area.
That plant, located on Hog Hollow Road in Chesterfield, is also centrally located among regional customers, Barnhart said.
Customers were advised to boil water for drinking and cooking three minutes to ensure safety, but tap water in areas under the advisory was said to be suitable for washing and bathing without being boiled.
The boil advisory affected numerous schools throughout the county.
The Parkway School District roped off water fountains and also provided bottled water to students.
Paul Tandy, a spokesman for the district, said that the complications are manageable for a day or so, but could become problematic if the notice lasts for “a protracted period” of time.
“We’ve dealt with this before. It’s unusual that it’s this widespread,” said Tandy. “We’re good for today. It’s more of a question of how long it might last.”
The Normandy Schools Cooperative announced Tuesday night that classes would not be held Wednesday, citing the water problem.
Bottled water was provided to students throughout the Ritenour School District Tuesday, according to an announcement on the district website. Cafeteria staff also boiled any water used for food preparation.
In Pattonville, “The boil order will not impact our ability to hold school,” said a statement on the district’s website. Only Drummond and Willow Brook elementary schools fell under the boil advisory in Pattonville. Bottled water was being provided at both schools Tuesday, and cafeteria staff were taking precautions. In Ferguson-Florissant, bottled water was being distributed at Bermuda Elementary, the only building in that district that fell under the order.
The University of Missouri-St. Louis notified those on campus Tuesday to avoid drinking from drinking fountains or water faucets. Westminster Christian Academy in Chesterfield canceled a couple non-varsity sporting events due to the alert, but still hosted other athletic contests as planned.
Businesses advised to clean
The St. Louis County Department of Public Health on Tuesday issued an advisory to businesses in the affected areas to avoid the use of ice machines and water-dispensing devices such as soda fountains until the boil advisory was lifted.
Heath Department Director Faisal Khan said all nozzles and equipment that are in contact with water should be cleaned and sanitized before returning to operation.
Tuesday’s health department “email blast” went primarily to restaurants and convenience stores. The agency will undertake follow-up procedures after the boil advisory to ensure businesses have complied with the sanitation guidelines.
Faisal said his department and Missouri American were in contact throughout the day Tuesday.
His agency, the director added, will become involved in testing only in the event of the threat of a disease outbreak.
Faisal credited the water company for exercising an “abundance of caution” in issuing a boil advisory, which he characterized as “benign” because the order doesn’t exclude showering, bathing, hand and clothes washing.
Bags of ice, bottles of soda
As a precautionary measure, the director nonetheless recommended that residents of cities inside the boil advisory perimeter drink bottled water until further notice.
Several area restaurants strictly restricted their beverage sales to bottled drinks. Cody Sturm, manager of the Buffalo Wild Wings in Creve Coeur, went out to Schnucks and Dierbergs to buy 22-pound bags of ice, two-liter bottles of soda and four packs of bottled water when he heard about the boil advisory. He didn’t hear about the order until 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, and when he did, he dumped out the batches of iced tea his employees had made that morning.
Some restaurants continued serving fountain drinks. An employee at the T.G.I. Friday’s in Creve Coeur said the staff believed the restaurant’s fountain drink filtration system would take care of any possible contaminants. Some managers simply said it’s not a big concern because they don’t use much water in their cooking.
Many restaurants saw slower business Tuesday because the day after Labor Day is always less busy, managers said, so the impact of the boil advisory wasn’t as severe as if it had happened on a weekend.
Health care providers in affected areas indicated that they remained fully operational while putting precautionary procedures in place.
A statement from BJC HealthCare said the organization is prepared to follow contingency plans “until the water supply is cleared for normal use.”
Bethany Pope, a spokesperson for Chesterfield-based Mercy health system, said affected medical facilities, including Mercy Hospital St. Louis, were following appropriate guidelines and “making bottled water available and flushing all systems to be prepared when the advisory is lifted.”
The advisory reportedly did not disrupt business at the Chesterfield Mall.
“To my knowledge it has been very minimal in affecting the mall,” said Brian Voyles, the mall’s general manager. He declined to comment further without consulting with specific tenants.
The alert may have been a boon to some local retailers. An employee of the Chesterfield Sam’s Club, though not authorized to comment publicly on the matter, confirmed that the store had “sold a lot of water” on Tuesday.
Barnhart said that an investigation into the cause of the power outage is ongoing. She said the drop in pressure caused by outages can create a situation where untreated groundwater is able to infiltrate water mains.
Even after testing confirms that water is safe for consumption, Barnhart said there is a mandatory waiting period of at least 18 hours to determine whether the boil advisory can be lifted.
Elisa Crouch, Steve Giegerich, Samantha Liss and Kristen Taketa of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.