Ventnor residents were advised to boil their water Friday, after test results showed fecal coliform traces — E. coli bacteria — in the city’s drinking water.
That boil-water advisory will continue through this afternoon at the earliest, as city officials await a new round of test results.
Thomas Klein, superintendent of the city’s Water and Sewer Utility, said the drinking water contamination was unrelated to a ruptured sewage line at the intersection of Fulton and Harvard avenues in the city’s Ventnor Heights section.
“There’s no correlation between one incident and the other, other than the fact that they occurred in the same time window,” he said, adding that the pressurized water system is completely separate from the sewer.
Officials urged residents to avoid recreational activities in the bays or canals around Ventnor, including harvesting shellfish from Lakes Bay north of the Margate Bridge.
Klein, at the scene of the line break, said he found out Wednesday that an inflatable plug designed to prevent sewage from entering an abandoned subterranean pipe that ruptured three years ago had failed. The seal was compromised when the sewer main crumbled around it, allowing untreated waste to spill into the water off Ventnor Heights.
Meanwhile, test results Klein received Friday morning revealed that one of nine samples collected from sites across the city Wednesday tested positive for coliform bacteria, later confirmed as E. coli, he said. He declined to say which site tested positive.
“It wouldn’t matter where the test came from because the water mains are all connected,” he said.
Escherichia coli, or E. coli, is a bacteria commonly found in the waste of animals and humans that can cause severe gastrointestinal illness.
After being informed of the results, Klein said he notified state officials and took eight additional samples downstream and upstream from the contamination site.
He said the results should be be returned between 5 and 7 p.m. today. If no additional coliform is found, he said the state Department of Environmental Protection may rescind the boiling order. If the tests are again positive, officials will continue collecting water samples, trying to trace the source of the bacteria.
The situation had residents and officials on edge Friday.
“It’s a panic situation,” said City Commissioner Stephen Weintrob, also at the scene of the sewer line break.
While the public was advised via reverse-911 calls and emails starting at about 4:30 p.m. Friday, Weintrob acknowledged officials should have acted faster.
“Someone has to make these decisions at an elected level at a quicker pace,” Weintrob said. “We should have gotten the word out this morning.”
Resident Bob DePiano, 83, shared that sentiment.
“On the phone, they said it’s happened since the 27th,” he said. “I take pills with this water, and I have collitis.”
Carol Kahn, who lives next to the breached sewer pipe, said the temporary pumping station has been an irksome presence in her neighborhood for three years before the latest incident.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to go away,” she said. “When’s it going to be over?”
And the water contamination only makes the situation worse, Kahn said.
“It’s skeeved me out,” she said, holding her 6-year-old Cocker Spaniel Scooter’s leash. “I’ve been boiling water for my dog.”
The news drove residents and visitors to buy up bottled water at local stores.
“It’s kind of a panic. Nobody feels like boiling water, they’d rather buy it,” said Salma Azad, owner of New Dorset Market on Dorset Avenue.
Within an hour of the announcement, Azad said, he was out of bottled water and had to buy more from an offshore site, reselling it at a premium.
Red Room Cafe owner Maria Gatta said she had four cancellations from hesitant diners Friday.
“Something like this scares people away,” she said.
While dinner service commenced Friday, the restaurant didn’t serve anything that required ice or water, including coffee and soda.
Like many business owners, Gatta said she’s frustrated by the seemingly endless list of new problems facing Ventnor, including Dorset Avenue bridge closures and flooding along West End Avenue.
“It just seems like there’s always something going on here we’ve got to deal with,” she said. “There was the bridge, and now this water situation.”
Staff writer Steven Lemongello contributed to this report.
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