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    Hillsborough water flunks bacteria tests

    The county launches an investigation and sends letters to customers saying there is no health threat.

    By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published November 28, 2002

    TAMPA -- Hillsborough's drinking water supply flunked tests for bacteria in October, but authorities didn't deem the situation serious enough to immediately alert county residents.

    Letters that will be mailed to 120,000 households Friday say there is no need to boil water or take other protective measures. Followup tests did not reveal harmful bacteria.

    There is "very little significance in terms of a health threat," said Brian Miller, who oversees drinking water compliance at the Hillsborough County Health Department.

    Still, the mysterious spikes worry authorities enough that they have started an investigation. "It's a sign that something could be wrong," said Norman Vick, an engineer with the Hillsborough County Water Department.

    The county routinely tests for coliform bacteria, which are generally not harmful but could indicate the presence of more problematic bacteria such as fecal coliform or E. coli. Ingesting those bacteria can lead to serious stomach illnesses.

    In October, 10 percent of 120 samples from the county's northwest district and 6 percent from the south central district tested positive for coliform. The northwest district includes parts of Carrollwood, Westchase and Town 'N Country. The south central district includes Brandon, Riverview, Ruskin and Sun City Center.

    Under federal rules, advisory letters must be sent to water customers if more than 5 percent of samples test positive.

    An immediate warning wasn't issued because followup samples, taken within days, showed no problems, Miller said. Disinfectant levels also remained high.

    This month, only three samples tested positive.

    Authorities are stumped. The investigation will look at everything from contaminated testing sites to sampling errors.

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