After finding cryptosporidium in Baltimore’s Druid Lake Reservoir last week, city officials announced that a subsequent sample returned from the lab today showed “no traces” of the health harming parasite.
But after the contamination incident raised questions about the quality of water in the open-air reservoir, the Department of Public Works (DPW) tonight is still advising immunocompromised individuals not to drink city tap water.
“Although the water remains safe for the general public to consume,” DPW’s evening news release said, “at this time, out of an abundance of caution, the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland Department of the Environment continues to advise people with severely weakened immune systems to continue to” take precautions:
• Drink bottled water, OR
• Boil water for one minute before consuming, OR
• Filter tap water using a filter labeled to ANSI/NSF 53 or 58 standards, or a filter designed to remove objects 1 micron or larger. These may be labeled “absolute 1 micron.”
(Brita-type filters are not adequate, the release said.)
Crypto, as it’s also called, can cause gastrointestinal illness that produces symptoms including diarrhea, stomach cramps, dehydration, nausea and fever.
“Anyone can get sick with crypto,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In people with healthy immune systems, symptoms last one to two weeks.
But individuals with weakened immune systems – such as those with HIV/AIDS, inherited immune system diseases, and cancer and transplant patients who are taking immunosuppressive drugs – are more likely to have severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms.
Weekly Testing Begins
In another shift – following the discovery of what DPW called a “low level” of the contaminant – the agency will begin conducting weekly tests for cryptosporidium and giardia at the Druid Lake and Ashburton reservoirs.
The feces of birds or other animals is one potential source of these microscopic parasites in surface water.
The agency had never, until recently, done any routine testing for these contaminants at these two reservoirs, where treated water, open to the elements, is temporarily stored.
But in May, DPW was ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct monthly tests as part of a crackdown after the city missed multiple deadlines over the years to build underground tanks to store drinking water.
The results of the new weekly tests will be posted on DPW’s website, the agency promised.
It said the underground tank project is scheduled to be completed by the EPA’s deadline: November 30 for Ashburton and December 31 for Druid Lake.
It also acknowledged the many past missed deadlines, calling them “unavoidable” and the result of “unforgiving site conditions, weather delays, supply and worker shortages caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, supply chain delays etc.”
Users Were Warned!
Making another point in its defense, DPW noted in its release that it has previously given customers “a standing notification on health effects” in its annual Water Quality Reports.
“Links to the most recent Water Quality Report can be found here and appear on the water bills mailed to City and County water customers,” the release pointed out.
“Uncovered reservoirs used to store treated drinking water can be open to contamination from animals, such as bird or insects,” the report says.
Indeed, downloading and finding the reference in the document, it was all there: everything about cryptospordium that’s been featured in the past week’s news stories and DPW FAQ’s:
“Inadequately treated water may contain disease-causing organism . . . bacteria, viruses and parasites . . . Immunocompromised people such as those undergoing chemotherapy . . . can seek advice from their health care providers.”
You can read it in full on page 11 on the PDF.
But be prepared, it’s in very small print.
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