Pine Water Tests Clear Of Coliform

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The Gila County Health Department still hasn't figured out what it was that made some 20 people in Pine violently ill last week.

But they do know that coliform bacteria in the Pine Water Association water supply was not the culprit.

According to Payson Health Inspector Svanna Jones, water samples taken from PWA water in the wake of the illnesses were found to be negative for coliform bacteria and that the cause of the illnesses now "appears to be viral, either from water or a person."

That Pine water remains a suspect at all, however, is at odds with one view from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

"Viruses can indeed be transmitted by water," said ADEQ Communications Director Kurt Maurer, "but if a water-borne virus is present, there would be some evidence of bacteria. In other words, you don't get one without the other. Typically, you wouldn't find virus without bacteria, and since there wasn't any bacteria, that might lead you to suspect that (the illnesses) were transmitted otherwise."

Bernie Lieder, treasurer of PWA, which serves 120 customers, said he was told the water is safe to drink.

"I got through to (a health department employee) at 3 o'clock Friday and was told the water had been cleared, there was no problem, all the tests were negative," Lieder said.

"We drink the water all the time," he said. "If we have a problem, we detect it at the plant, and we put out a boil-water notice to our members. The water is checked periodically several times throughout the day and we do that because it's a lifeline. It's nothing to be fooled with. We tax ourselves heavily and we pay high water rates, but we have good water."

Lieder also said that he was "flabbergasted and frustrated" by the health department's immediate focus on PWA water as the source of the illnesses.

"I have friends in the Valley who have recently come down with a virus. And people in Strawberry have become sick. People all over the state have been getting the virus. But they all don't drink Pine water.

"So I think it was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction" for the health department to blame the PWA water, Lieder said.

Jones could not be reached for further comment.

No matter the disagreements between the Gila County Health Department and the board members of the PWA, however, it is good news that the 20 people who became ill experiencing vomiting, diarrhea and headaches after dining at two Pine restaurants did not come in contact with coliforms.

Coliform bacteria are microorganisms that usually occur in the intestinal tract of animals, including man, and are the most widely accepted indicators of water quality in the United States.

While fecal coliform bacteria do not cause disease illness, disease-causing organisms known as pathogens sometimes occur within fecal coliform bacteria. Water with high pathogen counts can cause diseases such as e. coli, salmonella, hepatitis, dysentery, typhoid fever, ear infections or gastroenteritis.

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