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Pr. George's Water Restrictions Cleared

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 18, 2008; 10:00 AM

Water restrictions that have affected tens of thousands of people in central Prince George's County since Saturday were lifted as of 7:30 this morning, after a second round of tests showed that a break in a water main did not contaminate the water supply, authorities said.

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Consumers should flush all cold-water taps for five minutes before resuming regular water use, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission spokesman Mike McGill said. That recommendation also applies to water lines in refrigerators. Residents and businesses should dispose of any ice that was made after 2 a.m., and also throw out the first three batches of ice made by automatic ice dispensers, McGill said. Ice trays and ice maker containers then should be wiped clean with a solution of two tablespoons bleach to one gallon of water.

"We understand that the boil water advisory did cause an inconvenience for our customers," said Teresa D. Daniell, the commission's interim general manager. "However, providing safe, reliable water is of the utmost importance. For the health and safety of our customers, WSSC needed to take all necessary precautions."

McGill said consumers with questions about water safety can contact the commission at communications@wsscwater.com.

The rupture of the water main Saturday occurred at the site of a construction project to erect two traffic lights on Central Avenue at the Capital Beltway. Crews from the sanitary commission were working to determine whether the construction or the age of the pipes caused the break.

The break reduced water pressure across a large swath of Prince George's, a situation that could allow contaminants to enter the pipes, McGill said. "In this case, we had a significant loss of pressure for an extended period of time over a large area and that's why the determination was made to put out the advisory," McGill said.

However, in both rounds of testing, no harmful bacteria was found.

Yesterday, 16 schools in the affected 39-square-mile area scurried to procure bottled water for their students. The county jail also brought in bottles for its inmates. Signs at the county administration building in Upper Marlboro urged employees to boil their water at home and bring it to work. The break affected thousands of homes, along with the county courthouse; school board headquarters; the Boulevard at Capital Centre shopping center; several strip malls; at least three senior citizen residential facilities; and a hospital, officials said.

The order to boil any tap water before using it was the second in the agency's 90-year history. The first came in June, when much of northern Montgomery County was left boiling water for days after a 48-inch water main broke. Officials say they are grappling with how to deal with what they consider the system's failing infrastructure at a time of reduced revenue and general belt-tightening.

"They instructed us that if we were going to use the water, we had to boil it," Carla Bowens, a family consumer sciences teacher at Largo High School, said yesterday. "We were going to make cookies today, but I just suspended my lab. I just didn't want to take any risks with the students, and it's too dangerous and time-consuming to boil all that water."

Hundreds of cases of water were delivered for students, cafeteria workers boiled water for food preparation and water fountains were cordoned off and signs posted warning students and staff to refrain from using them, schools spokesman John White said.

At the jail, "we brought in 3,000 bottles of water to take care of the inmates, then we'll get more if we need it," said Vernon Herron, the county's director of public safety.


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