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City confirms small amount of crypto in water samples
By TERRI HARBER
Baker City Councilors occasionally winced in disgust as they heard experts talk about cryptosporidium during a special meeting on Tuesday.
Crypto is a parasite that can sicken people who drink water infected with it. People and animals can be afflicted with such symptoms as diarrhea, dehydration and nausea.
From April 2010 to March 2011, the city submitted 24 water samples to Seattle-based Lab/Cor Inc. for testing.
Although city officials have said in the past that crypto had not been found in the city’s water, three of the 24 samples did detect crypto “oocysts” — the protective shell around the parasite.
Two 10-liter samples, one taken in April 2010 and one in October 2010, each contained a single oocyst.
One sample taken in January 2011 contained two oocysts.
The test results were presented all at once, in early September 2011, because the state prefers it that way, which is why monthly updates weren’t available, said Michelle Owen, the city’s public works director.
City Manager Mike Kee said he wanted to bring water quality experts together Tuesday so councilors could have their questions answered “and get good accurate information to the people of Baker City concerning the positive tests.”
It takes between 10 and 30 oocysts in an average person’s body to make them sick. Someone with health issues, such as a compromised immune system, could become ill with fewer oocysts.
There never has been a confirmed case of crypto-related illness traced to Baker City’s drinking water. About 1,000 human cases have been confirmed across Oregon during the past 15 years.
Baker County health officials received no reports about people feeling sick at times corresponding with the city’s positive crypto tests, said Susan Bland, director of the Baker County Health Department.
There was no need for a boil order. Heating water to a rolling boil for at least one minute makes infected water safe to drink. A filter with an absolute pore size of at least one micron, or one NSF rated for cyst removal, also works, Bland said.
People who are even more susceptible to the ill-effects of crypto should talk to a doctor and find out whether consuming bottled water is necessary. This group includes people in poor health or those with weakened immune systems.
Crypto has been on the city’s agenda for several years, since the U.S. Enrionmental Protection Agency decided to require all public drinking water systems to deal with the parasite.
Because Baker City doesn’t filter its water, it will have to add an additional treatment step to its current system, which injects chlorine dioxide into the water. Crypto is resistant to chlorine.
The city’s choice is to bombard its water with ultraviolet light (UV).
The current estimated cost of the UV system is $2.5 million. It could end up costing between $1.84 million and $3.14 million, the actual amount depending on future economic conditions and product demand, said David Keil, water-wastewater section manager for Boise-based HDR Engineering.
The positive crypto tests don’t change the city’s plans, Keil said, although the city will need to increase the UV concentration to ensure crypto oocysts are rendered incapable of reproducing.
Baker City is one of just four cities in Oregon with surface water sources pure enough that they don’t need to filter the water to meet current federal standards. The three others are Bend, Reedsport and Portland.
Portland is seeking an exemption from the pending crypto rule.
Goss and Keil emphasized that no treatment is foolproof.
“There’s always some amount of risk,” Keil said.
Goss said crypto testing itself isn’t completely accurate because there’s “always a tiny fraction” of oocysts “that make it through.”
“There could be two to three more you don’t find,” he said.
Baker City expects to begin construction on the UV in mid-2013 and that it would take two years to complete. This means that in 2015, public works employees would have more than a year to become familiar with the system before the October 2016 deadline to have the system fully operational.
A crypto outbreak in Milwaukee, Wisc. during the early 1990s sickened 400,000 people and killed about 100. It’s believed that water runoff from a field treated with manure caused the widespread sickness.
The Milwaukee outbreak, the largest in U.S. history, prompted Baker City to conduct a single test of its water in the mid- to late-1990s, when no crypto was detected in the water supply, Keil said.
• Approved issuance of a liquor sales license for the Maverik fuel station and mini market in the 1500 block of Campbell St. The business was scheduled to open today. The license allows the business to sell wine, beer and cider for off-premises consumption.
• Decided to schedule only one regular meeting in both November and December unless events dictate otherwise.
The meeting dates are Nov. 8 and Dec. 13.