D.C. residents in Northwest and Northeast warned of possible water contamination

An estimated 34,000 customers of D.C. Water are on a boil alert from Thursday night into the weekend after a drop in pressure at a pumping station raised fears of contamination that could lead to illness.

The number of residents likely affected are believed to be much higher, as one customer can mean an entire apartment complex, or all of Howard University, for example, which falls under the advisory.

D.C. Water issued a map of the affected areas, large swaths of Northwest and Northeast, and details on how far the problem stretches. They said they will be updating it as they have more information on specifically affected areas.

Areas affected include:

• To the north, bounded by Western Avenue to Massachusetts Avenue to Nebraska Avenue to Military Road to Missouri to New Hampshire avenues.

• To the east by Eastern Avenue.

• To the South by New York Avenue to K Street to Whitehurst Freeway.

• To the west by Canal Road to the Clara Barton Parkway.

People under advisory are told to bring tap water to a rolling boil for at least three minutes, achieving a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Water can then be cooled and stored for drinking.

D.C. officials said it is safe to shower or bathe but not to ingest the water.

Around 8:30 p.m. Thursday night, an open valve at the Bryant Street Pumping Station in the Northwest of the city, caused a drop in pressure of water, from about 95 pounds per square inch to 40 pounds per square inch, said David L. Gadis, general manager and CEO of D.C. Water.

The drop in pressure made it possible for bacteria to contaminate the slow moving water or, with the resumption of services 66 minutes later, for any new bacteria to be pushed through the system.

Mr. Gadis said they are investigating the cause of the open valve, of which D.C. Water controls both manually and mechanically to open and close to increase pressure where its needed in the city.

“There was maintenance going on and we’re still investigating why the valve was open, but that did cause the drop in the pressure,” Mr. Gadis said. “We did see the drop occur, and we did begin to get phone calls and then we corrected the problem immediately.”

Charles Sweeney, of the Water Distribution Department, said he received calls simultaneously from the pumping station and complaints about the drop in pressure or no water at all.

“I had people on site here, and talking over the phone, we did some troubleshooting. In that troubleshooting, we identified that a valve was incorrectly placed,” he said. “I gave instructions for the valve to be closed, and I came in to assess the impact.”

At 10:59 p.m. D.C. Water wrote on Twitter that it had identified the valve problem and restored pressure. At 4:10 a.m., it sent out another tweet advising residents of the boil precaution.

At 4:34 a.m., a robocall went out to approximately 100,000 residents about the boil advisory. These people had signed up for “D.C. Ready” and alert system run by the D.C. Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said Director Chris Rodriguez.

Yet comments on social media from residents said they weren’t aware of the advisory for at least eight hours. They said they were experiencing problems with the water authority’s website and couldn’t access information.

City officials defended their actions.

“I think we did everything that we could,” Mr. Gadis said.

The advisory is out of caution, officials said, and they are undertaking testing of water facilities across the affected area and expect results by Saturday morning. They are testing for a wide range of bacteria, including E. coli.

If results come back clear, they’ll lift the advisory.

People who drank tap water or ate food prepared in tap water since after 8:30 p.m. Thursday night are advised to be aware of any adverse symptoms, such as upset stomach, nausea or diarrhea, said D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbitt.

Anyone who feels ill should contact their primary care provider, she said.

People who experienced a drop of water pressure or loss of water on Thursday evening are under advisory and when running their taps, if water is discolored, to continue running it until its clear. Boiled and cooled water can then be used to brush teeth, prepare or cook food, make ice, prepare infant formula or give water to pets.

Dr. Nesbitt said breastfeeding women can continue to do so without fear.

Out of caution, the city closed down splash areas and pools in affected parts of the city.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever gone to a splash pad or splash park or notice the people who use them. They tend to be a lot younger than many of us, and they stand there and they sort of drink the water at a splash park,” Dr. Nesbitt said.

Public pools will be “super” chlorinated beyond their traditional levels of chlorine before they reopen them tomorrow.

Water fountains in parks located in the affected areas were shut off, and boil advisories and “do not drink” signs are being posted in public buildings across the city such as libraries, schools and recreation centers. Bottled water is being made available to summer camps.

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