Coliform bacteria found in a Grovetown water sample sent to the state Environmental Protection Division is nothing for city residents to worry about, EPD and city officials said.
"In the summer months, it's common because of the heat in the water lines," said Loretta Lambert, an environmental specialist with EPD.
The city is required to test water samples monthly. A sample in August came back positive for the bacteria, which Lambert said is naturally occurring in the environment in water, air and soil and is generally not harmful.
E. coli, a member of the coliform group, can be found only in fecal material and can cause serious illness. Coliform is easily detectable and can be a good indicator of contamination or insufficient water disinfection.
But the coliform-positive water sample did not test positive for fecal matter, meaning there is no cross-contamination with the city's sewer lines, said Todd Baldwin, Grovetown's Water and Sewer director, adding that his department was informed of the positive result in early September.
Baldwin said that because no fecal matter was present, residents do not need to take drastic actions such as avoiding city water or boiling it.
"If there was a big enough water problem and people should be worried, I would have been on the news and everything else immediately," Baldwin said.
Most water systems control bacteria with chlorine. Baldwin said the chlorine levels around the city are high enough to keep the water sufficiently sanitized.
He said after one of August's six samples came back positive for coliform bacteria, three more samples at the site were collected for testing.
Baldwin said samples were taken at the same site, downstream and upstream.
Only the upstream samples came back positive, which he said is strange because if upstream samples are positive then downstream samples also should be positive.
Lambert said her records indicate that all three supplemental samples were taken from the same site.
Baldwin said he thinks contamination in collecting the samples or the testing process might have tainted the samples.
Lambert said that because coliform bacteria is in water, soil and the air, contamination would be easy to do by setting bottle caps on the ground or not properly sterilizing faucets. But with trained collectors, Lambert said, contamination doesn't happen very often.
Even with high levels of chlorine, Lambert said, the bacteria could easily live in some areas of the pipes.
"This was positive for total Coliform, and they need to find out what's wrong with that site," Lambert said, "... to make sure what was there is gone."
Baldwin said he has taken extra samples to the Columbia County lab and his employees are doing all that can be done to make sure the bacteria is gone and the water remains safe.
"We have flushed out that area and flushed other areas in the city and run around doing chlorine levels and we have yet to find any problems," Baldwin said.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.