Bradford’s Troubled Waters: Water Commission Under Fire Over E. Coli Alert Glitch
Miranda Miller, of East Corinth, ladles boiled water into containers for running the coffeemaker at the Local Buzz cafe in Bradford, Vt., yesterday. Due to the recent detection of E. coli in the town’s water supply, businesses were forced to boil all water used in food preparation or for washing dishes. Some residents were concerned about not knowing about the contamination. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
The Local Buzz cafe in Bradford, Vt., assures customers that they are still brewing coffee, using boiled water, yesterday. “It stinks not to be able to run the espresso machine,” said employee Inger Swingforth of Topsham, Vt. “And for a small business, it hurts to lose some of your customers.” (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Bradford, Vt. — Residents are expressing frustration with the water commission for failing to fully get out the word late last week about a boil order, after trace amounts of the bacterium E. coli were discovered in the town’s water supply.
The order was lifted yesterday afternoon after it was determined that the contamination did not pose a health risk.
The incident, however, highlighted what some town residents contend is a need for the town Water and Sewer Commission to improve communication with the public, echoing last year’s controversy surrounding the six-month delay before the commission informed residents that water was no longer being fluoridated.
When the trace amount of E. coli was detected, the commission posted an alert on its Facebook page, distributed flyers and contacted a local radio station. It also activated a robo-call announcement that went out to many — although not all — Bradford residents.
“I am very disappointed we did not receive a call or anything we had to find out (through) Facebook,” one resident wrote on the commission’s wall. “We have little kids who drink the water and could of gotten really sick had we not seen this on Facebook.”
The E. coli was detected during a routine, twice-monthly test, according to Bridget Simmons, the commission’s office manager. The test itself was conducted near the Bradford Bottle Shop last Wednesday; the results came in at about 4 p.m. Friday, at which point the commission initiated the notification procedures.
That robo calls were sent via a “reverse 911” program, which disseminates a recorded message to numbers in a Bradford-specific database. However, certain phone service providers such as Comcast and Vonage don’t routinely convey land line numbers to these databases, Simmons said, and residents who only use cell phones wouldn’t be in the database, either.
“It’s a little bit of a mess, but it’s a learning lesson that needs to be fixed,” said Karen Moore, a resident and the town’s health officer.
Moore herself did not hear about the boil water order until Saturday, when she saw a friend had posted about it on Facebook. Her daughter hadn’t heard yet, either.
“She didn’t find out and we didn’t know, and she said, ‘I just drank some water,’ ” Moore said. “I said, ‘Just stick to the bottled water.’ ”
The uneven communication links to alert the community nonetheless reminded some of the fluoridation issue, which was settled at a special February Town Meeting where residents voted to re-fluoridate the town’s water supply. Bradford’s water supply remains unfluoridated, however, as the commission is waiting to hear back from the state about potential funding for implementation, town officials said yesterday.
Simmons said that the commission will send out a mailer this week to all residents on the town’s water supply system — not every Bradford resident uses town water — that will include an application to opt into the reverse 911 program. Those who want to do so online can follow a link on the commission’s Facebook page. That way, she said, the town’s phone database will contain a fuller listing of numbers that would automatically receive call alerts.
The order affected businesses to varying degrees.
For instance, at Bradford Veterinary Clinic, the staff has had to bring empty jugs to a well on the property to collect water to wash instruments. When a six-foot iguana needed to be bathed, they filled a bath with warm water, added bleach to it and then waited an hour before getting the lizard wet.
“It’s just an inconvenience, really, more than anything,” said Susan Dyer, the clinic’s veterinarian.
At The Local Buzz, several customers looking for lattes and espresso-based drinks had to be turned away, because of concerns that the water used wouldn’t get hot enough for long enough, said Miranda Miller, a barista. However, the cafe was able to produce regular drip coffee by converting its brewer to take pre-boiled water.
“It’s been somewhat frustrating to lose customers or have to turn people away,” Miller said. “But we’d rather be safe than try to make money at the moment.”
At Colatina Exit, an Italian restaurant nearby, staff members had to contend with not being able to use some of their most trusty beverage equipment: soda guns.
To cope, the restaurant served bottled soda with store-bought ice.
“It throws you off,” Cook said. “In the restaurant business, preparation is basically everything. It took some adjusting, that’s all.”
Over the weekend, the restaurant operated smoothly.
“It was a lot of fun, actually,” Cook said.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.