Seattle suburb: Water safe to drink again

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

MERCER ISLAND, Wash. (AP) — A boil-water advisory that closed restaurants and forced schools to operate with bottled water for nearly a week in a wealthy Seattle suburb has been lifted, even though inspectors never found the source of E. coli that prompted it.

City officials said Wednesday it's safe again to drink the water again on Mercer Island after samples tested clean for six straight days. The boil-water advisory was lifted at noon after consultations with Public Health Seattle-King County and the state Department of Health.

"We are pleased to be on the other side of this and hope it's the end of it," city spokesman Ross Freeman said.

The city will continue investigating, expanded testing and adding extra chlorine to the water. Residents are advised to let tap water run for 5 minutes to clear the pipes.

Schools were scheduled to sanitize their water systems Wednesday night, the city said.

Restaurants can reopen after checking with county health inspectors. The city said 62 restaurants, delis and coffee shops had to close during the boil water advisory, although many had reopened with prepackaged foods and off-island ice.

The first boil water advisory was issued Sept. 26 then lifted on Sept. 29 only to be re-imposed last Thursday.

One child was sickened with an E. coli infection, but county health officials couldn't say for sure whether it was caused by the water or some other source. There are about 60 E. coli cases in the county each year, and the source in most cases is never identified.

No other illnesses possibly related to Mercer Island water have been reported, Freeman said.

Boil-water advisories more frequently hit small water systems in rural areas. Mercer Island, a 6-square-mile city of about 24,000 on the Lake Washington island, is one of Seattle's wealthiest suburbs. Residents include billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

The city gets its water from Seattle Public Utilities through a pipe along the Interstate 90 bridge, but no E. coli was found in other parts of the Seattle water system.

E. coli usually indicates fecal contamination, health officials said. Most E. coli bacteria are harmless and exist in the intestines of people and warm-blooded animals. Anyone who drinks contaminated water could become ill. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting that could last several days, county health officials said.