As Alamosa Tries to Flush Salmonella from Water System, Some Residents Allowed to Shower

Last week, there was not much the residents of Alamosa, Colorado could do in the way of water other than flushing their toilets since the municipal water system was off-limits for every other use.  Schools and restaurants were closed and the National Guard was handing out bottled water.  But, the people of Alamosa are receiving a reprieve following the outbreak of salmonella bacteria contaminating the tap water there.  Now, some residents in northern Alamosa are able to use tap water for brief showers.  Since March 19th Alamosa residents have been unable to use water straight from the tap for brushing teeth, washing dishes, drinking, and cooking and crews are flushing the water system to purge <"">salmonella bacteria.

It is not known how the water became contaminated and, to date, 315 people have become ill, with 85 cases of salmonella confirmed and 12 people hospitalized.

The Alamosa Water Department, collaborating with crews from Denver Water, began its flushing of the municipal system at 9:00 am Tuesday.  The flush water has chlorine concentrations of 25 parts per million; three times more than what is found in chlorinated swimming pool water.  The super-chlorinated flush is the first of three phases for cleaning the system.  In the second phase, the chlorine levels will be elevated, but lower than that of the first phase.  It is during the second phase that people will be allowed to bathe.  In the third and final phase, Alamosa residents will be permitted to drink the water.

About 10,000 people are affected by the water contamination, but most businesses are open; many restaurants and the city’s public school system are closed.  Alamosa Mayor Kathy Rogers said the community received $300,000 in state aid.  The 8,000 gallons of bottled water handed out daily was donated; Governor Bill Ritter applied for federal assistance.

Health officials said the Alamosa tap water tested positive for bacteria believed to be salmonella and authorities said the first victim began showing symptoms around March 8.  “The risk that a possible contamination is currently imposing on the health and well being of thousands of residents is worrisome,” said Senator Ken Salazar.  Governor Bill Ritter declared a public health emergency Friday and activated the Colorado National Guard to help distribute safe water.

People infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection.  Laboratory testing is required to determine the presence of Salmonella; additional testing can determine the specific type and which antibiotics are needed.  Generally, the illness lasts a week and most recover without treatment, but the elderly, infants, and people with impaired immune systems may require treatment and—in some—hospitalization is required because the infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream and other body sites.  Severe cases can result in death if not treated.  Waterborne salmonella outbreaks are fairly rare, said Mark Salley, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.  The bacteria are typically spread by food, he said.  Information about this outbreak is available at the COHELP line 1-877-462-2911; recorded information is available from 8:00 am and 11:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

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