Portland Water Bureau should do forensic analysis, expert says

PWB 'does' not anticipate finding the actual source of the contamination

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Just days after the Portland Water Bureau issued a boil water alert to its 670,000 customers, top international water quality experts gathered in Portland for a water resources conference.

As a late addition to the World Environmental and Water Resources Congress at the Portland Convention Center from June 1-5, the Portland Water Bureau gave a presentation about the May 2014 boil water event, led by Portland Water Bureau Water Quality Compliance Manager Yone Akagi.

Portland Water Bureau Water Quality Compliance Manager Yone Akagi. (KOIN 6)
Portland Water Bureau Water Quality Compliance Manager Yone Akagi. (KOIN 6)

Akagi said at the congress, “There’s tons of pathogens in your water that we don’t test for. We need to be worried about all of them and boiling your water is a pro-active step you take to ensure you don’t get sick from any of them.”

She said the city had no idea how much money had been lost during the boil water notice from thrown-out food to businesses shutting down, but said, “The costs are well into the millions.”

When asked by KOIN 6 News if the problem was isolated or spread throughout the system, Akagi said, “It is considered you might have operational things going on.”

The enterobacter amnigenus bacteria found last fall, she said, is believed to be a “re-growth issue.”

Dozens reported sickness

Portland resident Mary McDonald said she believes she became sick from E. coli over the 2014 Memorial Day Weekend, when the Portland Water Bureau issued a boil water notice due to contamination.

“I started getting severe symptoms where my abdominal cramps and shooting pains were really causing me to buckle over,” she told KOIN 6 News.

See Part 1 of the Series

A total of 76 people reported symptoms directly to Multnomah County health officials in the aftermath of the boil water order.

Questions at the congress 

Dr. Walter Grayman, with over 40 years experience in the areas of water supply and water resources, asked if PWB  would be “going outside to have someone evaluate it.”

“I don’t anticipate we’ll actually find the source of the contamination,” Akagi said.

PWB does not have an outside agency conduct a sanitary sample to find out the cause of the problem. Officials recently increased the amount of chlorine in the water nearly 14% to try and kill off the bacteria.

In a later interview, Grayman – who came to the congress from Cincinnati – said, “My biggest suggestion is they really do need to follow up with some forensic analysis.”

“Sanitary surveys produce information that might be helpful in pinpointing any problems,” said Oregon director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Anthony Barber.

Cincinnati-based engineering consultant Walter Grayman. (KOIN 6)
Cincinnati-based engineering consultant Walter Grayman. (KOIN 6)

The EPA doesn’t have the authority to make Portland implement that. “We depend heavily on the Oregon Health Authority,” he said.

While the EPA writes the rules for the Safe Drinking Water Act, the state enforces them.

But the state is “not required” to enforce that review, said Oregon Health Authority Technical Services Manager Kari Salis.

On June 5, enterobacter amnigenus again appeared in another regular PWB test from a site at NE 80th and Everett in Portland.

Salis said the Oregon Health Authority is stretched thin. But the City of Portland does its own testing and reports the results to the state.

“The state has 41 people in our state drinking water services program and we have 3600 water systems so Portland is just one of those,” she said. “We have quite a few public water systems that report data to us.”

But that is not a good enough answer for Mary McDonald, who is now worried about drinking tap water.

“I feel very angry we’re paying for the management of our water and supply,” she said. “A person cannot live without water.”

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