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Published: Thursday, 8/26/2004

Island village's supply of water is investigated; cross-connections banned, mayor says

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Teams of health experts investigating a mystery Lake Erie island illness spent time yesterday looking at whether any possible cross-contamination could have occurred to the Put-in-Bay village water supply.

Jay Carey, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health, said investigators were searching for the presence of cross-connections at homes and businesses where people use village water and also have well water. A cross-connection could allow for contamination of village water.

Mr. Carey said he did not know how many entities were under review for potential cross-connections with the Put-in-Bay village's water supply, the primary water source at South Bass Island. He said general water and wastewater issues also were being probed yesterday, among other issues such as checking plumbing at local establishments.

No tests results were available and a cause has yet to be found for the outbreak.

"All of this takes a great deal of time," Mr. Carey said.

Health experts to date said that nearly 1,000 people who have traveled to South Bass Island have reported experiencing gastrointestinal sicknesses over the summer. The illness typically surfaces two days after exposure and triggers bouts of nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and diarrhea.

Put-in-Bay Mayor Bernard "Mack" McCann said last night that he felt confident investigators would not find any cross-contamination with the village's water supply, nor the presence of any cross-connections, either.

"I'm sure they're not going to

find anything," he said.

He said the village water department regularly checks to ensure that cross-connections - which are not allowed - are not present among the more than 200 village water users. Mr. McCann said it is common for some village water customers to use well water for such things as flushing their toilets and running their air conditioners because it is cheaper to do so.

The Ottawa County Health Department, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture have been involved in the investigation, which sent four teams - up from three on Tuesday - to conduct tests on the island yesterday.

On Monday, one of several tasks for department of agriculture employees was to inspect ice made at the Island Ice Co., which supplies a large quantity of ice that's used at Put-in-Bay. Their quest was to test the water used to make that ice, said Mark Anthony, a department spokesman.

No tests results from that check were available, but Mr. Anthony said laboratory tests of water from the ice house on Aug. 9 showed no problems. The ice house uses well water to create the ice, he said.

In addition to ongoing water tests, a spokesman from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said two island businesses - Heineman's Winery and Joe's Bar and Press House - complied recently with an order to plug septic tanks at their establishments. Both ultimately hooked up with the general septic system, she said.

Well water used at those two businesses tested positive late last month for E.coli bacteria, an indicator of possible fecal contamination. Tests last week showed no sign of the bacteria.

Mr. McCann, who's expressed concern that the ongoing health investigation is negatively impacting island tourism, has asked health officials to give a clean bill of health to the village water supply.

"Our water is just as good today as it was yesterday," the mayor said.

But without an exact cause of the outbreak known, that is something health officials have declined to do.

As the island's tourist season quickly ticks by, keeping some visitors away because of the health scare, Mr. McCann said he received an offer of assistance from Columbus yesterday.

He said a representative of the governor's office contacted him to see it could help. Mr. McCann told the office that his utmost concern was for the island's younger workers who might have trouble paying their bills and mortgages.

The mayor also said he would like to see assistance for business owners in general but said he doesn't believe that sort of help exists. "We were asking for more than they were giving," he said. "But we would appreciate any help we can get."

Contact Kim Bates at:

kimbates@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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