PLATTSBURGH — Boil-water orders are a common occurrence across the North Country, but they are a necessary precaution against possible problems with public-water supplies.
In 2011, the Clinton County Health Department alone issued 90 boil-water orders. That number dropped to 80 in 2012, but 18 issues had been ordered through March of this year.
“We’ve developed within the department plans for when it’s appropriate to order boil-water notices,” said Judy Ross, senior public-health sanitarian for the Clinton County Health Department.
“The most common situation is when there is a water-line break.”
The break itself is not the main concern, Ross said, but if work crews cannot repair the break without losing pressure in the water line, then the boil-water notice is used as a precautionary measure.
“If the pipe is repaired under pressure, then chlorine disinfectant levels are maintained,” she said. “If they lose pressure, that could potentially cause a backflow, and contaminants could be sucked back into the system.”
The order is not issued in response to the detection of high levels of contaminants, but the order is not lifted until two subsequent tests come back with acceptable levels, Ross noted.
“It is definitely a precautionary measure,” she repeated, adding that at least 90 percent of all boil-water notices are precautionary and not a result of specific tests.
Municipalities are responsible for contacting the Health Department in the event of a water-line break and ensuing loss of pressure.
Many of those situations are actually part of planned repairs to water lines when the municipality knows the system will temporarily be losing power, Ross explained.
The municipality is also responsible for announcing the boil-water notice publicly, usually through the radio or newspaper.
Tests for coliform are taken at 24-hour intervals when work is completed. Coliform, a bacteria found in human and animal waste, acts as a marker to confirm that contaminants have entered the system and have not been removed through disinfection.