The South Carolina Public Health Agency issued a violation of the City of Columbia’s water supply system after the discovery of E. coli in a water sample several months ago.
Documents from the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control indicate that a city water sample in April “resulted in a violation of the maximum contaminant level for E. coli.” The city and DHEC entered into a consent order that the city would investigate the case and submit a corrective action plan to the state agency. The city has since submitted this action plan.
There is a stipulated penalty of $ 4,000 to the city if it does not meet the requirements of the ordinance within six months, said deputy city manager Clint Shealy. He said the April sample “totally surprised” the city’s water department staff.
Columbia has the largest water system in the state. The sample of E. coli was isolated and very rare, and the city’s water is safe to drink, Shealy said.
The city’s water department takes hundreds of water samples each month at locations across Colombia. Shealy said technicians are monitoring high levels of total coliform bacteria, an indicator organism that could indicate a more serious problem.
In April, samples were taken from a residential area north of Elmwood Cemetery in the Gadsden Street neighborhood. Shealy said a technician once obtained a positive sample for coliforms in that area, so the town returned and obtained several more samples nearby. Samples are typically taken from an outdoor tap in homes, Shealy said. One of these follow-up samples tested positive for E. coli.
This led to a “survey” of the area, with more tests and samples. All of those samples turned out to be clean, Shealy said. The lines were then flushed, the city searched and found no water line breaks in the areas, and a boil water advisory was issued for Gadsden Street between Florence and Darlington Streets on April 14. This notice was lifted the next day. There were no other positive water samples for E. coli in this neighborhood.
According to the city’s April boil water advisory, E. coli “are bacteria whose presence indicates that the water may have been contaminated with human or animal waste. The human pathogens in this waste can cause short-term effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms.
Shealy said it is difficult to determine exactly why the single sample of E. coli positive has occurred.
“We brought in a national water quality consulting company to help us review our data and review our system,” Shealy said. “Collectively the best thing we could find is that we had a sampling error (on the initial positive coliform test) and then we went to another sampling site that we had never sampled before and probably didn’t let the faucet rinse long enough. Could have been (caused by) pets in the yard.
Shealy said a positive E. coli is an automatic violation of DHEC and triggered the corrective action process.
This story was originally published August 11, 2021 11:34 a.m.