LEWISTOWN – The Montana Department of Environmental Quality recently issued a health advisory for the public water system in Lewistown.

The advisory was issued in late October after recent tests, which indicated the presence of coliform bacteria in the water supply, a violation of drinking water standards.

The City of Lewistown said in a notice posted on its website: “Although this is not an emergency, as our customers, you have a right to know what happened, what you should do and what we are doing to correct this situation.”

City officials say that people do not need to boil their water or take other corrective actions. However, anyone with specific health concerns should consult with a physician or healthcare provider. People with severely compromised immune systems, infants and some elderly may be at increased risk.

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According to Pennsylvania State University: “…drinking water that is contaminated with coliform bacteria does not always cause illness. Most of these bacteria are harmless to humans. If disease-causing bacteria are present, the most common symptoms are gastrointestinal upset and general flu-like symptoms such as fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Symptoms are most likely in children or elderly household members.”

City officials said that seven samples were tested for the presence of coliform bacteria during October 2017. Two of the samples showed the presence of total coliform bacteria. The standard is that no more than one sample per month may do so.

The city provided the following information about the situation:

What should I do? You do not need to boil your water or take other corrective actions. However, if you have specific health concerns, consult your doctor. People with severely compromised immune systems, infants, and some elderly may be at increased risk. These people should seek advice about drinking water from their health care providers. General guidelines on ways to lessen the risk of infection by microbes are available from EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

What does this mean? This is not an emergency. If it had been you would have been notified immediately. Total coliform bacteria are generally not harmful themselves. Coliforms are bacteria which are naturally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other potentially-harmful, bacteria may be present. Coliforms were found in more samples than allowed and this was a warning of potential problems. Usually, Coliforms are a sign that there could be a problem with the treatment or distribution system (pipes).Whenever we detect coliform bacteria in any sample, we do follow-up testing to see if other bacteria of greater concern, such as fecal coliform or E. coli, are present. We did not find any of these bacteria in our subsequent testing.

What is being done? We are increasing sampling for coliform bacteria and investigating for the source of contamination. We are still detecting coliform bacteria. We will inform you when our sampling shows that no bacteria are present. We are presently working with DEQ to resolve this problem as soon as possible.

For more information, contact the Public Works Department at 406-535-1770 or 308 4th Avenue South.

General guidelines on ways to lessen the risk of infection by microbes are available from the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

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