Westerly Water issues statement on last week's problem in Pawcatuck

Stonington — Five days after two Pawcatuck residents reported that their skin began burning from shower water in their home, the Westerly Water Co. on Tuesday night issued its first public explanation of what happened.

First Selectman Rob Simmons has criticized Westerly Public Works Director Paul Corina and Westerly Town Manager Derrik Kennedy for not telling him about the problem until they sent him an e-mail Saturday and not using the police department’s emergency alert system to inform residents.

As word spread about the problem on Friday and Saturday, residents posting messages on the popular Stonington Community Forum Facebook page expressed concern and confusion about the safety of their water supply. There was no official notification from Westerly about what occurred and Kennedy and Corina did not respond to an e-mail from The Day about the problem. The water company serves Pawcatuck residents.

At its Wednesday meeting at 7 p.m. at the police station, the Board of Selectmen is scheduled to discuss a proposed memorandum of understanding with Westerly officials designed to avoid future communication delays.

In a message to the town that was posted on the Town of Stonington website Tuesday night, the water company stated that “unknown concentrations of treatment chemicals may be present in Westerly Water Department’s water supply due to treatment equipment malfunction.”

It recommended that if customers have not used water since Friday, “DO NOT DRINK OR USE THE WATER BEFORE FLUSHING.”

The statement recommended homeowners flush their household faucets for three to five minutes “to discharge water with potentially high concentrations of chemicals from interior plumbing.”

It states that while there is no health-based guideline for pH in drinking water, Westerly water typically has pH of around 7-8 “but some sections of our system may have experienced pH levels above 10 due to a malfunction in treatment equipment.” It said this occurred last Thursday and Friday.

It states that exposure to extreme pH values “may result in irritation to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes. In sensitive individuals, gastrointestinal irritation may also occur.”

It recommended that if residents experience any of these symptoms and they persist, “you may want to seek medical advice from your health care provider.”

Police said that a teenage girl who lives in a house on Elm Ridge Road first noticed the problem while taking a shower early Friday night and told her father, who also felt the burning sensation. Both declined medical treatment.

The water company explained that due to an equipment malfunction on Friday, a pump “that injects potassium hydroxide into the water system to adjust the pH kept running while the water pump shut off, injecting a larger than normal amount of chemical into the water system. This raised the pH to a higher level than is designed to treat the system.”

The statement said the water system has now been flushed and “all pH values are consistent with design criteria levels after flushing the excess potassium hydroxide out of the system.”

For more information, residents can contact Corina at 401-348-2561.



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