Sewage-tainted floodwaters threaten public health

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“It’s mind-boggling to think about what could possibly be in there,” said Kim Greenwood, state scientist with the Vermont Natural Resources Council.

“Most Vermonters would never think I should pour my antifreeze in the brook, or my latex paint or my chain saw oil. The person who cares least about the environment would never dump this stuff in. But we’ve inadvertently dumped the worst from our households into (streams).”

Greenwood said that while the free tests kits will check for bacteria, residents with private wells might need a more extensive battery of tests to look for other contaminants.

In Woodstock, the privately owned Woodstock Aqueduct Co, which has provided water in the village since 1886, was under a boil-water order until Thursday, when it was lifted, said Eric Wegner, vice president and general manager.

Tests had earlier come back negative for bacteria, but Wegner said state officials were nervous because some water was coming into the system via a fire hose not rated for potable water.

The hose, he said, was installed when a water main passing under the Ottauquechee River was ripped away by floodwaters. To keep the rest of his system properly pressurized, crews used the hose to connect hydrants on the two sides of the river.

More than 500 feet of cream-yellow fire hose snaked across the top of the bridge and up the road, replacing the 8-inch water main that normally runs unseen beneath the stream.

Wegner also had to contend with other issues, including a pump that blew because of an electrical short and fields turned into sodden mud flats surrounding his well houses.

After 10 straight 16- to 18-hour days, Wegner looked haggard as he recalled telling one local resident that he himself had been drinking the company’s water.

“Yeah,’ the resident observed. “But you don’t look too good.”

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Matt Moore in Philadelphia, Sarah Brumfield in Baltimore, Beth DeFalco in Trenton, N.J., and Samantha Gross in New York City.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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