Montgomery Lifts Advisory on Water

By Dan Morse and Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 19, 2008

An advisory to boil drinking water that had covered large sections of Montgomery County was lifted last night after two rounds of tests found that a rupture in a four-foot water main did not result in contamination.

Tens of thousands of residents may again drink water and wash dishes without first having to boil tap water. County health officials said about 900 restaurants and food-service facilities that earlier had been ordered not to sell food unless it was packaged before the rupture Sunday night would be allowed to reopen today.

Officials recommended that residents and businesses, especially those with faucets that have not been opened for several days, open their taps for five minutes before consuming any water. Officials also suggested discarding ice from ice-making devices, along with the first three batches of new ice, before wiping down ice-maker parts with a mild bleach solution. More details are available at

The water main rupture had caused what was believed to be among the most widespread disruption to water service in Maryland in at least 20 years, officials said. After the first round of tests came back clean, health officials yesterday allowed restaurants to reopen under strict hand- and dish-washing guidelines, drawing on directives used in Florida after hurricanes. Montgomery health officials said no illnesses were reported.

State and local officials said they would seek to improve emergency water-use procedures, particularly after complaints that residents and businesses did not receive notice quickly or clearly enough.

"It would behoove us to think about how we might deal with this in the future because if it happened once, it's bound to happen again," said Alan Brench, chief of the food-processing division of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

County officials pledged to train more employees to operate the emergency notification system, Alert Montgomery, which was not used because the only two employees capable of operating the system were out of town and others were not trained.

County Council members said they would press county officials on the issue. "It's something that needs to be resolved quickly," said council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville.)

Ulder J. Tillman, Montgomery's health officer, also said yesterday that she would examine ways that the Alert Montgomery system could be used to notify restaurants of public health alerts.

Despite the hardship on businesses, forcing restaurants to effectively close was a necessary precaution, Tillman said. "I felt I needed to protect the public's health, and that had to take precedence over economic impacts," she said.

The pipe burst about 9 p.m. Sunday in a wooded area near Muncaster Mill Road. By midday Monday, about 100 million gallons of treated drinking water had poured into a nearby creek.

The rupture cut service for many customers and reduced water pressure in central and northern Montgomery. Health officials worried that, without enough water pressure in the pipes, groundwater could seep into the system.

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