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Water tainted at BHS

Kayla Baskin, a Brandon High School senior, drinks from a fountain Tuesday at BHS after the water was declared safe. Photo by Susan Bromley. (click for larger version)
November 17, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- Something's in the water.

That was the conclusion first of the Oakland County Health Division, which found coliform bacteria in Brandon High School's water supply and ordered the district on Nov. 4 to shut down all drinking fountains at the building, and close the Aquatics Center pool.

The district complied and sent letters to high school students and their families notifying them of the problem. The maintenance crew, led by Arden Becker, executive director of operations, aquatics center and food services, then brought in supplemental drinking water from other schools in the district. They placed 5-gallon jugs, similar to the Gatorade containers seen at sporting events, at drinking fountains for students and staff to consume.

But something more sinister than coliform bacteria was found in two of the water jugs and now police are investigating whether water was intentionally tainted with petroleum.

In two separate incidents, on Nov. 8 and Nov. 10, Brandon deputies were called to the school regarding a suspicious odor in the water that had been brought from other schools in the district.

Oakland County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Pete Burkett said when police were called the first time, they thought it was possible the faint petroleum odor could have been a result of where the container, which was empty, was being kept— in a maintenance area with chemicals. However, it seemed more ominous when a deputy was called again two days later.

"When the deputy opened the lid to the container, there was a strong odor and there was water in there," Burkett said. "The water was tested and there was fuel in it."

Burkett said it is unknown if the fuel in the water was intentional or accidental. No injuries or illness resulted from the tainted water. He is asking anyone with knowledge of the incidents to contact the substation at 248-627-4911.

Superintendent Lorrie McMahon was out of town at press time, but released a written statement in which she said, "I would like everyone to know that no one was in any danger. Until I have discussed the issue with the Oakland County Sheriff, I have no further comment."

On Nov. 10, the district received the all clear from the county for the students and staff to resume drinking from the high school's water supply.

Becker said having water brought in to schools has been done in years past due to poor water quality throughout the district.

In 2006, the district approved the installation of filtration systems on school drinking water supplies by Sunshine Water Systems of Linden at a cost of $135,000. The system filters out arsenic at the point of entry—with large tanks filtering water near the point at which pipes enter a structure's walls. Prior to the installation of the system, five of the six school buildings in the district exceeded arsenic limits.

Becker said that Oakland County requires monthly monitoring of the drinking water, and water samples are sent into the state accordingly. The testing for coliform bacteria simply reveals whether it is present in the water supply. If it is, consumption from that source must end until the bacteria is out of the supply.

According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, most coliform do not cause illness. However, their presence in a water system is a public health concern because of the potential for disease causing strains of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa to also be present. Waterborne disease from these organisms typically involves flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever, and diarrhea.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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