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Alert notices fail to work; Officials say process flunks.

Byline: Debbie LaPlaca

DUDLEY - The municipal boil-water alert was lifted about 3 p.m. yesterday, allowing residents to resume normal water use.

Test results received yesterday from systemwide water samples showed no traces of coliform and E. coli, according to Water Commissioner Jay R. Spahl.

At the selectmen's meeting Monday night, Mr. Spahl said, "In this incident, you can't put blame on anyone. It just happened."

He noted that 5:30 p.m. Friday, when the boil-water alert was issued, was not the most opportune time for an emergency and the Water Department, from an operational perspective, handled the emergency efficiently.

Selectmen agreed.

"I think you folks have done a great job on this," Selectman Paul M. Joseph said.

Although the emergency is past, water alert communications will continue to be a topic among town officials.

"The way we communicated this to the public was a complete failure as far as I'm concerned," Jonathan Ruda, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said Monday night.

Residents were told to check government cable Channel 13 for water alert details, but the information was on Channel 12. Also, he said, residents were directed to the town website for safety instructions, but the Web address was not given. Lastly, the sheriff's department Reverse 911 telephone emergency notification system failed.

The day after the boil alert was issued, residents received several automated calls that said nothing more than, "This is a test."

Town Administrator Peter M. Jankowski said yesterday the town's Reverse 911 service was cut from the budget about two years ago, for a savings of about $10,000 a year.

"We knew there was a backup system with the sheriff's department, and right now we have no extra money, so we'll be looking to fine-tune the sheriff's system," he said.

Selectmen looked to the town's director of emergency management, Fire Chief Dean C. Kochanowski, regarding communications, who said few were aware of a water emergency notification procedure instituted in 2010.

"We didn't use it in this incident because we didn't know it existed," he said.

During an incident recap, George Patrinos of the Water Department told selectmen he received notice from a testing lab Aug. 15 that a regularly scheduled round of water samples collected the day before was showing a possible coliform "hit" at Shepherd Hill Regional High School. He decided to chlorinate both water tanks and the system.

"We have a very strong dose of chlorine in the Shepherd Hill area," he said. "The DEP was happy with our proactive steps."

Town officials contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection and followed its prescribed protocol, which included sampling water from homes upstream and downstream from Shepherd Hill.

When E. coli was confirmed in one home Friday evening, residents were told to boil and disinfect water and Board of Health officials began visiting town restaurants and businesses.

A full round of systemwide samples taken Saturday tested clean, but the DEP ordered another round before lifting the alert. The second round of samples went to the lab Monday.

Mr. Spahl told selectmen the problem was confined to the Shepherd Hill area, yet the new water line installed this summer by the high school wasn't to blame, as the contractor went through a gantlet of safety testing.

Selectmen asked the fire chief to educate all town officials on the water emergency procedure and asked the Water Commission to mail a water emergency fact sheet to all system users.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 22, 2012
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