Source: Sherman Publications

Bacteria found in Oxford Twp. water no threat

by CJ Carnacchio

September 19, 2012

There’s absolutely no reason to panic or stop drinking the water, but some coliform bacteria was detected earlier this month at two local businesses hooked up to the Oxford Township municipal water system.

The reason it’s news is because the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner’s Office (WRCO) is legally required to notify all of the township’s nearly 2,500 water customers, even though the bacteria’s presence poses no health threat.

Subsequent testing at both businesses, located along M-24 south of Drahner Rd., and surrounding businesses, both upstream and downstream of them, has since shown no presence of coliform bacteria.

“Basically, that issue has been resolved,” said WRCO Chief Engineer Jody Caldwell. “Now, we’re going back to normal monthly sampling.”

Coliforms are bacteria that are always present in the digestive tracts of animals, including humans, and are found in their wastes. They’re also found in plant and soil material.

The type of coliforms originally detected in Oxford are what’s called total coliforms. They’re found in the soil, in water that has been influenced by surface water, and in human or animal waste.

“Coliforms are naturally present in the environment,” said Connie Sims, an environmental planner with the WRCO. “Total coliforms are all around us everyday. They’re on my phone, on my desk – they’re all over.”

Most coliform bacteria do not cause disease. However, some rare strains of E. coli, a species of coliform bacteria, can cause serious illness. Both Sims and Caldwell made it very clear that none of the tests indicated the presence of E. coli.

If the presence of E. coli had been found, the county would have taken immediate action. “If we had gotten an E. coli hit, we would have to issue a boil water notice and it would elevate the response greatly,” Sims said. “No E. Coli was detected.”

Although total coliforms are “not a health threat in itself,” their presence is a “yellow flag” as compared to E. coli, which is a “red flag,” according to Sims.

“(Total coliforms are) used to indicate whether other potential harmful bacteria may be present (in the water),” she explained. “You want to look to see is there’s something going on or is it just a fluke.”

Testing for bacteria is the only reliable way to know if the water is safe. The presence of total coliforms in drinking water indicates an increased risk of contracting a waterborne illness.

Sims noted there is no legally acceptable level of total coliforms in drinking water.

“They don’t do a count on it. If you have one, you’ve exceeded (the limit),” she said.

Fortunately, as was stated earlier, both businesses have since been cleared through more testing. No total coliforms were present in the water at either location or any other sites that were tested both upstream and downstream of these businesses.

When asked why these two sites tested positive for coliform bacteria, Sims said there’s no “definitive” answer.

It could have come from the person taking the sample if they sneezed or touched the water. Or it could have come from the sample making contact with a water tap.

“It could have been anything,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell noted that because the township’s water goes through two treatment plants, chlorine is used to disinfect it as it’s being pumped from underground wells.

“That’s another helpful means to kill the total coliforms,” he said.

Even though no other samples have indicated the presence of total coliforms, the county is still legally obligated to inform all Oxford Township water customers about the situation. They will do so via a letter

“Any time you have more than one coliform presence in a month in this size system, you have to do a public notice within 30 days of the state giving you a maximum contaminant level violation,” Sims said. “You have to issue a notice.”

Oxford Township’s water system is tested multiple times by the WRCO every single month. In addition to collecting samples from all the active municipal wells and the two elevated storage tanks, the county also tests the water at five distribution sites.

Those sites include one local business located along M-24 south of Drahner Rd.; Christ the King Church; the fire station at the corner of Newman and W. Drahner roads; a pressure reducing valve at the Willow Lake subdivision; and Independence Village of Waterstone, a retirement community.

“We sample the distribution (sites) three times during the month,” Sims said. “We’re required to collect 10 distribution samples every month.”