Monte Vista Offers Water to Ailing Alamosa During Salmonella Outbreak

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The City of Alamosa Colorado's water supply is contaminated with salmonella, and a neighboring city, Monte Vista, offers water to the ailing community. Alamosa to trade one contaminant for another to stem Salmonella.

Monte Vista City Manager Don Van Wormer said, on Thursday, that the City has made an internal decision to provide water at no charge to Alamosa institutions such as hospitals, senior centers, and other public facilities, in light of the current Salmonella contamination of Alamosa's water supply.

"We have had calls from contractors; we're negotiating contracts with Wal-Mart and some other commercial outfits out there. We will be more than happy to allow them to use our water, however, we have a cost associated with it, which is in our policy, which in essence, I believe, is $15 per thousand gallons," said Van Wormer. "Helping out those in need, we're going to do that. Those who need water to keep their business open to meet the demands of the market will pay for it."

He reiterated that "our water is good" and the City tests it regularly. "We've always been in compliance," he said. "What happened down there is somewhat of an anomaly. Getting Salmonella out of a water system is extremely unusual. It has to happen through a series of events unrelated to actually extracting water out of the well. Our aquifer, we're fine on that.

What if?

Councilor William Spicer asked about Monte Vista's plan, in case "this happened to us. Do we have a good plan?"

"The plan has a number of variables, and it depends upon what the event is, and what the contaminant would be. But ultimately, how this usually plays out on these sorts of events, the system has to be sterilized or flushed, sterilized and flushed, to get the bad water out. I'll just make a general blank statement on that- we'd have to chlorinate the system at a higher level, get it in there, flush the system out, or if it's another kind of compound or whatever might cause contamination, it might just take a straight flushing of the system or if it's an isolated from an area, we might be able to isolate the area and flush the system out. These events, though rare, have happened." He said depending on the requirements, Monte Vista might either turn all the "pumps on and create a surge, or one, or two, or three, depending on what (is needed.)" He said the City has a general plan and contacts for obtaining fresh water through the stores and other purchases. "We know where the tanker companies are that are certified to haul potable water. I feel confident that, if we were ever in that predicament, we'd be able to respond in a timely manner," he said.

Alamosa City officials became aware of the problem early last week, and since then, more than 200 people have reported Salmonella-related symptoms. There have been, as of this writing, over 65 confirmed cases, with 9 hospitalizations. Governor Bill Ritter has called on volunteers and organizations to lend a hand with the situation. Ritter met with city and health officials on March 22, to hear their take on the situation, toured the new Alamosa Water Treatment Center and the Emergency Operations Center, where he thanked the tireless volunteers, and then assisted with the distribution of water at one of the three water distribution sites.

"The take away for me today was that there is plenty of bottled water available and that volunteers, and state and local agencies are working diligently to resolve this crisis and keep the public informed," said Ritter.

Area residents and visitors have been advised to stop using tap water from the city's water system and to begin using bottled water or water being made available in bulk at the distribution sites until further notice. On March 19, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued a bottled water order for the city of Alamosa, and city officials declared a city/county emergency. On March 21, the CDPHE declared a public health emergency and Ritter issued an executive order declaring a disaster emergency due to the contamination of the public water supply. The executive order provides up to $300,000 in funds from the Disaster Emergency Fund to pay for the response effort related to this disaster and activates the National Guard, who will take the lead on the distribution of water.
"For now, residents are asked to be patient and to utilize the resources being made available by state and city agencies," said Ritter. "We also want the rest of the state to know that Alamosa is still open for business. Restaurants and hotels are taking the appropriate precautions and stand ready to host visitors."

In a press release last week, Ritter's office gave more details:
The process of de-contaminating the city's water system will began on Tuesday, which involves flushing the system with high water pressure and high levels of chlorine.

Health officials are stressing that it is extremely important to only use bottled or bulk water once the flushing begins. Furthermore, they are strongly cautioning that infants and children should not be bathed in the heavily chlorinated water being used to do the flushing.
The Colorado Department of Emergency Management (CDEM) and CDPHE are working with commercial water bottlers and suppliers to help provide bottled water to the community. CDPHE has activated the Disease Control, Consumer Protection, Water Quality and Health Facilities Divisions to focus on multiple complex issues. Activities currently being addressed are:

·    Coordination of communication and consistent messages,
·    Providing technical assistance to the community,
·    Advising, and tracking the closures of, commercial food establishments, schools and daycare centers,
·    Supporting the call center with current information and additional staff,
·    Identifying and tracking the number of cases,
·    Advising health care facilities on patient care during the water restrictions,
·    Sampling and testing the water system,
·    Coordinating a plan to flush the water system.

Health effects of chlorine exposure and ingestion
The Schools have temporarily suspended classes, including Adams State College, because of the high chlorine levels expected in the next few days, making good hygiene difficult for students. Adding chlorine is, essentially, replacing one contaminant with another, but using chlorine for cases such as this is standard practice for a municipal water system, and officials have said it could take up to three weeks to completely flush the system. Chlorine has been linked to bladder and other cancers according to some scientific studies; however, other studies did not come to the same conclusions with regard to cancer. Residents are encouraged to continue to drink bottled water until the high chlorine levels have subsided. The body's liver and kidneys process substances such as chlorine to eliminate them from the body. Small amounts of chlorine can pass through the skin when people are exposed to chlorine gas, chlorine bleach, or bathing in water with high levels of chlorine. When chlorine combines with lake or river water, a class of chemicals that includes chloroform can be formed. Most people can smell chlorine when levels reach 0.02-3.4 parts per million (ppm). If residents can smell chlorine in their home, the level may be too high to be safe, and might need to open windows periodically to allow the fumes to disperse. During the initial phase of the system treatment, it is advisable not to mix tap water with other chemicals such as ammonia.

Short-term, high-level exposures to chlorine can affect health.
·    Immediately or shortly after exposure to 30 ppm or more of chlorine gas, a person may have chest pain, vomiting, coughing, difficulty breathing, or excess fluid in their lungs. Exposure to 430 ppm in air for 30 minutes will cause death.
·    The health effects of breathing air that has less than 30 ppm of chlorine are the same as listed below for inhaling liquid bleach vapors.
·    Liquid chlorine bleach and its vapors (at levels of 3-6 ppm in air) are irritating to eyes. At levels of 15 ppm in air people experience nose and throat irritation. Touching liquid chlorine bleach can cause skin irritation. Drinking levels over 4 ppm can cause throat and stomach irritation, nausea and vomiting.

Salmonella Symptoms

Individuals experiencing diarrhea for two days or more, bloody diarrhea, diarrhea with fever or other concerns, should consult their health care provider. Salmonella symptoms usually begin about one to three days after exposure and include diarrhea, fever and stomach pain. Illness usually lasts four to seven days and most people will recover without medical treatment.

However, the diarrhea can be severe, and the person may be ill enough to require hospitalization.
The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems may have a more severe illness. In these patients, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream and then to other body sites, and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

Information about salmonella is available at the COHELP line 1-877-462-2911. People can call for recorded information between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m., Monday through Friday.

State consumer protection officials provided the following guidance during the bottled water order:

  • At home, use bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, making ice, wasting dishes and for adding to any food especially for the preparation of baby formula.
  • Home-style/domestic dish washing machines are adequate for sanitizing if the heat drying cycle is applied.
  • Bathing and showering in the water should present no problems for healthy individuals. Exercise caution not to ingest water during such activities.
  • No commercial food preparation should be done unless approved by the local public health agency.
  • Consider using prepared food from an alternative approved source.
  • Use only prepackaged foods that do not require any additional preparation other than heating in its original container.
  • Frequently wash hands and apply hand sanitizer after washing.
  • Do not touch food with bare hands. Use disposable gloves.
  • Use frozen/canned produce.
  • Purchase packaged potable ice.
  • Do not use water to wash plates, cups and utensils. Use only single -service utensils, such as paper plates, napkins, cups, plastic spoons, forks and knives.

Typically the ones most vulnerable to illness caused by contamination are the elderly, young children, and those with compromised immune systems.

Stay tuned to Solace Radio and visit the Solace Radio website for updates and information.


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Dianne Lockhart

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