Metro-East News

UPDATE: Boil order lifted for Belleville, Shiloh, Swansea customers

Water main repair underway

Illinois American Water Company workers repair a water line at the intersection of Illinois State route 161 and Dutch Hollow road in Belleville.
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Illinois American Water Company workers repair a water line at the intersection of Illinois State route 161 and Dutch Hollow road in Belleville.

6:15 p.m. update

According to information released by Illinois American Water, the boil order has been lifted. Customers in Belleville, Shiloh and Swansea no longer need to boil their water.

According to an American Water press release, water quality tests confirmed the water meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Act standards and regulations.

The boil water order was issued after a water main break in the area caused a drop in water pressure. Anytime water pressure drops below 20 pounds per square inch in any part of a community’s distribution system, a boil water order must be issued as a precaution to protect customers.

“Our team wants to thank our customers for their patience,” said Grant Evitts, Sr. Manager of Field Operations and Production. “There is always a sense of urgency when water service to our customers is affected; we also want to ensure water quality is the highest possible. We appreciate our customers’ understanding.”

2 p.m. update

Hospitals in the area also had to react to the boil order in place.

At St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville, workers immediately activated its Emergency Operation’s Center, said Kelly Barbeau, hospital communications manager.

St. Elizabeth’s also has staff members who plan and drill for situations like this throughout the year.

“Staff are utilizing bottled water for patient and employee needs,” Barbeau wrote in an email to the BND. “All hospital procedures are progressing as normal. The hospital incident management team is continuously monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of our patients and staff ... We are also making additional efforts to recycle all plastic bottles, as we strive to be good stewards to the Earth, even during emergencies.”

At Memorial Hospital in Belleville, bottled water and ice are being delivered to direct patient care and nursing units at the hospital. Bottled water is available to non-direct patient care offices and departments, said Blair Glauber, assistant director of hospital and community relations.

The hospital’s food and nutrition services staff also is using an alternate source of water for cooking, or boiling water before use, Glauber wrote in an email.

The hospital’s central processing unit has been able to keep its usual procedures in place.

The department that sterilizes instrumentation used in operating rooms and other patient areas, uses a thermal disinfection process, which operates at a very high temperature. Instruments are being assembled, wrapped and sterilized, as usual, Glauber wrote.

12:45 p.m. update

Seven workers from the St. Clair County Health Department have fanned out across Belleville, Shiloh, Swansea and parts of Fairview Heights to deliver materials to restaurants and cafes about how to respond to the boil order, according to Sharon Valentine, the environmental health manager.

Valentine said that restaurants follow the same basic instructions that can be found on the department's website, though the department recommends some extra precautions for eateries.

The health department advises using single-use items to serve food and that cooks sanitize their hands and, after washing them, wear gloves when preparing food.

Additionally, the department advises that all homes and restaurants flush their water lines, including those hooked up to ice-makers. For restaurants, that task is often handled by equipment manufacturers like Coke or Pepsi, Valentine said.

Despite the guidelines, some restaurants have decided not to open on Friday to play it safe, she said.

Noon update

In addition to schools, restaurants, hospitals and homeowners, the transmission line break also sent the St. Clair County jail scrambling for water.

Sheriff Rick Watson wanted to be sure the jail had a two-day supply for its 400 inmates and employees, so he put in an request for 3,000 bottles of water from the Red Cross in St. Louis early Friday morning.

The St. Clair County Highway Department donated three large trucks to the cause according to the county’s emergency preparedness plan, said Jim Fields, the County Engineer. The trucks are expected to bring back the haul soon.

After the line broke, the jail was boiling water in accordance with the boil order, but Watson said the jail couldn’t keep that up for a long time.

At home, boiling water for a family isn’t that hard, he said, but doing so for hundreds of people is.

“Everybody worked together here to get it done, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Even with the fresh water, though, the work isn’t done. Because inmates can’t have bottles in their cells, guards will have to pour the water into Styrofoam cups, Watson said.

11:45 a.m. update

Jim Grindstaff, owner of Jefferson’s Restaurant on West Main Street in Belleville, said he’s open for business as usual for lunch — with a couple of exceptions.

“I hope people aren’t going to be too upset that we don’t have any ice for the tea,” Grindstaff said. “But, besides that, we’re in good shape. We have fresh food ready to put on the grill and, like the sign that we put on the door says, the coldest beer in town.”

Local high school leaders said they’re prepared to serve lunch without a hitch.

At Belleville West on Frank Scott Parkway cases of water are stacking in the cafeteria to make sure there’s plenty to drink.

District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said this is the first time he can remember a water main break during school hours in his nine years with the school system.

“Fortunately, we heard about this Thursday night and we were able to start coming up with a plan for how we were going to handle it,” Dosier said. “Fortunately, we have water pressure so the restrooms work and the fire suppression system works. If not for that, we would have had to close the school.”

Kim Harrison, of Sodexo Food Service which does the meal prep for District 201, said the menu, coincidentally didn’t take too much water to prepare.

Pizza was being served as well as grilled cheese sandwiches. Pasta was also served but that water had to be boiled as part of the process, so it was safe. A 30-gallon kettle was kept on a boil in the kitchen at Belleville West where cooks got water being used to make soup.

Yellow tape blocked the drinking fountains at Belleville West and Belleville East and coolers full of cold water trucked in from Millstadt were made available to thirsty students.

West Principal Rich Mehrtens said the closest thing to the boil order he could remember is when a car hit a fire hydrant near the old Belleville West High School on West Main Street more than a decade ago.

“We didn’t have any water at all,” Mehrtens said. “We had to close the school.”

About 2,950 students attend Belleville West and Belleville East.

At nearby Althoff Catholic High School, a lenten menu also ended up being helpful for coping with the situation.

“We’re having cheese pizza and fish sticks,” said Pam Miller, director of special events at the school. “We brought in 400 bottles of water to make sure the students had plenty to drink.”

10:57 a.m. update

Illinois American Water officials say the boil water order could be lifted as early as 6 p.m. Friday depending on test results.

The order came into effect after crews fixed the break between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday night, said Karen Cotton, the external affairs manager at American Water.

Afterward, the utility company took 14 water samples from across the district and incubated them shortly after. The samples must incubate for 18 hours; they will be read around 6 p.m.

“Hopefully, this boil order will be lifted early this evening,” Cotton said.

Cotton couldn’t disclose the location of the collection sites for security reasons, except that the samples were collected from around the water district and according to the guidelines of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The 24-inch transmission line break occurred as the result of a car that crashed into a fire hydrant near the intersection of Highway 161 and Dutch Hollow Road. The pressure in the line built up into what Cotton called a “water hammer” before the pipe burst and sent water gushing into the air.

Water pressure soon plummeted to 20 pounds per square inch. The pressure is usually 60 PSI.

The break, Cotton said, was “quite large,” even for a hydrant collision.

“We haven’t had a large, widespread (break) like this for quite some time,” Cotton said.

10:45 a.m. update

The St. Clair County Health Department issued a set of requirements on its website for food service establishments that are under a boil order.

The requirements include using bottled or boiled water for beverages and only using bagged ice.

All water used in preparation should be boiled for five minutes. Boiling water for a longer time may concentrate chemical contaminants and raising them to harmful levels.

Preparation includes washing produce, thawing frozen foods, water used for employees’ handwashing, and water used for washing dishes and cooking utensils.

Water lines to soda fountain machines, ice machines and coffee machines should be disconnected.

The health department also recommended using single-use dinnerware and utensils.

10:30 a.m. update

Like metro-east residents, restaurants are also dealing with the boil water order.

Brianna Straessle, a representative of Cracker Barrel in Shiloh, said there were no issues on Friday morning other than following procedures indicated in the water boil order.

“We did experience low water pressure yesterday (Thursday), but it was for a very minimal amount of time, only 30 minutes to an hour, and then it corrected itself,” Straessle said. “Just like all other restaurants, businesses and residents in town, we are following procedures to make sure our food and water remain safe.”

Norm Etling, an engineer with the village of Shiloh engineer, said he received calls last night from Cracker Barrel and Golden Corral, both restaurants are located in the Green Mount Crossing shopping center.

“Cracker Barrel notified us they had low pressure, and then Golden Corral had no water,” Etling said. “Initially I was worried the guys working on the mine subsidence project at Dierbergs had hit a line, but it turned out it was the break in Belleville that was causing issue.”

Etling said American Illinois Water kept Shiloh officials in the loop and notified John Marquart, village administrator, of the boil order.

10:15 a.m. update

At Belleville District 118, Abraham Lincoln Elementary and West Junior High had low water pressure on Thursday night until about 10:45 p.m. when the water pressure returned, said Assistant Superintendent Ryan Boike.

The school district also was taking extra precautions with food preparation “making sure prep water was boiled and sanitized before anything is cooked,” Boike said.

He added the district purchased two palettes of bottled water enough for 4,000 students and staff. The district also asked parents to send students with a bottle of water to school in an email sent to parents Friday morning.

“Every effort will be made to ensure the school day occurs with as little disruption as possible,” the email to parents said.

***

It’s all because a car accident caused a 24-inch main in west Belleville to rupture at about 6 p.m. Thursday. The crash took out a hydrant at Illinois 161 and Dutch Hollow Road.

The rush of water released by the break swamped a neighboring back yard. The current washed out all the sand beneath an above ground pool at the home of Mike Hume and Ruth Mayo.

“I kept thinking it was going to get into the house,” Mayo said. “I was like, ‘What are we supposed to do now?’”

She said Hume had worked all last summer to level the back yard.

“I’m not getting out here with a shovel to fix it,” Hume said.

Illinois American Water issued a statement that recommended all water used for drinking or cooking be brought to a rolling boil for at least five minutes prior to consumption.

Boiling is a precautionary measure used to insure that no harmful bacteria, which could get into the water system due to low water pressure, can make people who use the water sick. The water is safe for bathing, according to Illinois American.

Check back at bnd.com for more on this developing story as it becomes available.

30,000 people were called about the water-line break. Here’s how to get alerts:

  • For landlines: Call 1-800-422-2782
  • For smartphones: Get the Code Red app
  • Visit illinoisamwater.com, search for “Code Red” and click on the “Sign Up” button below
  • Or, go directly to the sign up here
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