The Payson Health Department has found coliform bacteria in the Pine water supply, and health officials are encouraging residents to boil tap water or use bottled water until the problem is corrected.
According to Payson Health Inspector Svanna Jones, samples taken from the Brooke Utilities water supply confirmed the recent discovery of a south Pine food-business owner: the water contains coliform bacteria.
"Total coliforms, and not e. coli," Jones said. "The (health department) rules state that permitted (food-serving) establishments have potable water, which means that any tests should be negative. Since I am responsible for the permitted establishments, I contacted them all and told them not to drink the water without boiling or sanitizing it until the tests come back negative."
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 salmonella, hepatitis, dysentery, typhoid fever, ear infections or gastroenteritis and e. coli. There are many types of e. coli, some of which live in the digestive tracts of all humans. The potentially deadly strain of e. coli known to have appeared in hamburger and unpasteurized fruit juices is not among them.
The coliforms in the south Pine water supply were discovered by the owner of a local food business, who is required by law to test the water a minimum of one time per year.
"When I ran the test about two weeks ago, it came out positive for coliforms, which shocked me," he said. "And then I ran another test through a second lab, which came back positive again."
As it turns out, this businessman doesn't think that bacteria in the tap water is his biggest problem, however.
"The big problem was that I couldn't get anybody to act on this. I had (Brooke Utilities representatives) out here, and they refused to take samples because corporate didn't tell them what they had told us.
"It went back and forth for about a week and, as a result, I am now shut down. Under state law, all federal and state plants have to test negative on bacteria in the water. Until we get it resolved, I can't reopen.
"But now that the county has confirmed a presence of coliforms in the water, I'm hoping Brooke Utilities stops dragging their feet."
Brooke Utilities officials could not be reached for comment. But Thursday, company spokesperson Sally Bonkowske issued a letter to residents stating that "Recent water samples were taken in south Pine which called into question the quality of water.
"The Gila County Health Department has reached conclusions independent of Brooke Utilities as they relate to the results from these samples. Brooke's monthly water quality reports indicated that the water quality was at acceptable levels ..."
"I just don't know where they get that," the Pine businessman said. "Are they testing the same water I'm testing and that the county is testing? If I hadn't discovered the coliforms myself, who knows how long they would have taken to do it?"