Board of Health Investigates Black Water

The Marion Board of Health is still complaining about pipes, but this time it isn’t about Elizabeth Taber’s smoking pipe– it’s about Elizabeth Dunn’s water pipe.

            Dunn, a Board of Health member, wasn’t at the March 12 meeting, so she sent it a letter via Health Agent Karen Walega to ask the board to investigate a recent incident involving excessively dirty water flowing from the faucets of her village home.

            In response, Walega asked interim Department of Public Works Superintendent Jon Henry to attend the meeting to assure the board that there is no threat to public health.

            Dunn said in her letter that she ran the water that morning, and described it as “absolutely black,” adding that several other neighbors had the same complaint.

            Henry knew exactly what the problem was – testing of the sprinkler system being installed at the new Tabor Academy dormitories being constructed on Spring Street.

            According to Henry, a third party conducts the tests, not the Town of Marion. But, he added, “Our people were on the job and supervising it the way they should.” Having said that, though, what they are dealing with are materials of cast iron and ferrous metals with sediment that collects over time within the pipes. “And when you open a hydrant, you get a sudden rush of water in a much faster weight under normal use,” Henry said. “The disturbance of the pipe disturbs the sediment.”

            The result is water that, although not harmful, is particularly “unpalatable.”

            “It’s a crapshoot as to where the sediment is going to go,” said Henry, “so it’s virtually impossible to notify people downstream that there may be sediment in the water.”

            When the Town flushes the fire hydrants twice each year, it does notify the public because when the hydrants are disturbed, it affects all the water in the vicinity.

            “But with short duration testing, we don’t notify,” said Henry. “We really can’t notify anybody with any degree of accuracy.”

            Henry said the sediment collection in the pipes is mainly from the iron and manganese in the water, and over the last 20 years the Town has been balancing those elements out with other chemicals to affect the pH of the water.

            Henry showed the board an example of what the inside of a typical water pipe looks like when thickly lined and coated with years of sediment. Although the elements themselves do not pose a health risk, once in a while e-coli bacteria can get trapped in the sediment and subsequently dislodged into the drinking water under similar circumstances. This time, luckily, that did not happen, he stated.

            “And we test every day, seven days a week,” said Henry. “The threat in this case is what I describe as a low-level [threat]. The water doesn’t look palatable, but I would recommend people avoid drinking it until the pipe clears out again.”

            And definitely don’t wash your clothes with it, he added.

            The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health is scheduled for March 26 at 4:30 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Board of Health

By Jean Perry

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