An employe at Fairfax City's Goose Creek Water Treatment Plant in Loudoun county on Sunday apparently dumped an excessive amount of chlorine into the water system, prompting hundreds of complaints about foul-smelling and foul-tasting water.

Howard Werbel, a retired insurance broker who lives near Fairfax City, said yesterday his water "tasted like Clorox," a chlorine laundry bleach.

In Herndon, which buys its water from Fairfax City, Linda Hughes said that she was doing dishes yesterday and could not keep herself from thinking about bleach. Barabara Kuchinsky of Herndon said she has forbidden her children to drink the water. "The water is so bad the fumes from it are enough to give you a sinus headache." Kuchinsky said.

Richard Fruehauf, Fairfax City's director of water and sewer service, said yesterday the concentration of chlorine in the water system yesterday and Monday was not high enough to cause any health problems.

He said the city water system, which serves 60,000 people, normally tries to maintain a chlorine concentration of about 1 part per million parts water, and that the error on Sunday increased the concentration to 1.7 parts of chlorine per million.

"The best that we can figure out is that it was (a filtration plant) operator error," Fruehauf said yesterday. "The operator didn't make the right decision on how much chlorine to feed." The error was corrected after about four hours, Fruehauf said. He said it takes the water system a couple of days to "work itself out."

Fruehauf said his department received about 300 complaints beginning Monday, but that as of yesterday afternoon complaints had "slacked off."