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L.B. to discuss water quality

Officials to hold forum after E. coli alert

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State, county and local officials will discuss the state of Long Beach’s drinking water at a public forum at City Hall on July 24, a month after the city’s drinking water tested positive for traces of E. coli.

A routine test sample from a private home on Grand Boulevard was confirmed to have traces of E. coli on June 21, which forced the Nassau County Department of Health to issue a boil-water alert. The alert was lifted a few days later, but the contamination left residents with many questions.

“I think there are a lot of open questions,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky told the Herald. “If the water is safe, we want officials on the record to give their opinion.”

The meeting  — sponsored by Kaminsky, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, County Legislator Denise Ford, State Assemblywoman Missy Miller and the Long Beach City Council — will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. and include presentations by the state and county health departments and the city’s Department of Public Works.

Kaminsky said that questions need to be answered about the source of the E. coli contamination — which has yet to be determined — the city’s water infrastructure and the high levels of chlorine added to the drinking water to treat the contamination in recent weeks.

Though some residents complained on social media about the strong smell, itchy skin and burning eyes due to the increased chlorine levels, city and county officials insist that the water is safe to drink.

State and county engineers worked with the city to increase chlorine levels and flush out the system over a two-day period as a precaution, to eliminate any potential E. coli contamination.

Long Beach Public Works Commissioner John Mirando, who will speak at the forum, said that during the boil-water alert, engineers conducted a total of 50 tests over three days, and once all samples came back negative for E. coli, the order was lifted, officials said.

Mirando said Wednesday that the city has since conducted routine tests of the water, which tested negative for total coliforms, an indicator of E. coli.

“Since the boil-water order was lifted, we’ve had 40 water samples that were all negative, meaning no signs of any total coliforms,” Mirando said.

He added that the county health department required the city to maintain the chlorine level a little higher than usual — 2 milligrams per liter, Mirando said — in order to flush out the system over the two-day period.

Typically, the city adds 0.5 to 1 milligram per liter of chlorine to its drinking water to prevent contamination. Since the order was lifted, the city has had to maintain the chlorine level at 1 to 1.5-milligrams per liter at the request of the health department.

“There’s absolutely no reason for people not to drink or use the water. The water is fine. I drink it here every day,” Mirando said. “Some people may be more sensitive to chlorine.”

He added that the E. coli was an “isolated incident,” and that he doubts the source of the contamination will be determined.

Mirando and his chief plant operator are finalizing a report that will be submitted to the Health Department for review. He expects the department to give the city clearance to lower the chlorine levels by the end of this week or early next week.

County health officials have also deemed the water safe to consume.

“The water meets the state and federal standards for drinking water,” said Mary Ellen Laurain, spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Health.

Although a Long Beach resident said that her 12-year-old daughter was hospitalized with symptoms of E. coli before a June 24 news conference in which officials lifted the boil water order, Laurain said the county did not have any confirmed cases of individuals who were sickened by the contamination and could not comment on any personal medical records.