On August 14, two weeks before the beginning of classes, Hampden-Sydney Buildings and Grounds (B&G) noticed something in the campus drinking water that shouldn’t be there: traces of e.coli bacteria.
The bacteria were detected in one of B&G’s regular samplings of the water from their two water treatment plants.
“We take samples of the water three days per week as well as monthly samples that we send to the State Board of Health’s Office of Drinking Water [in Danville], and the traces of bacteria showed up on the monthly sample results,” said John Prengaman, director of the College’s Physical Plant.
Neither Buildings and Grounds, nor the State Board of Health, have been able to determine for sure how the bacteria got in the drinking water – though Prengaman speculated that a broken water main prior to the contamination may have been the cause.
An e-mail notice was sent to all students, faculty and staff on August 19 notifying them of the contaminated water samples. In total, all on-campus housing, and about 60 residential homes in the area, were affected by the water contamination. The notice recommended that all affected residents boil their water for one minute and let it cool before use until the water could be deemed drinkable again.
Additionally, the College provided free bottled water at several locations across campus, including Settle Hall, Graham Hall, Bortz Library and Kirby Fieldhouse. Furthermore, prior to the arrival of freshmen on August 23 and upperclassman on August 26, B&G, with the help of cross country team, provided 15 cases of bottled water to each RA to distribute to his residents.
“The idea behind that was to have at least one case of bottled water per room,” Prengaman said.
Upon getting back the initial contaminated samples, B&G also notified the Wellness Center, warning them to look out for cases of e.coli, which is marked by symptoms such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea and headaches. Fortunately, according to Beth Graham, director of the Wellness Center, no suspected or confirmed cases of e.coli were reported during the contaminated water period.
To cleanse the drinking water, B&G performed the usual procedure they follow to treat the water at their water treatment plants, with some slight changes.
“We made minor adjustments to the chlorine % to remove any traces of bacteria in the water,” Prengaman said.
On both the 19th and the 20th, new samples were taken in various locations throughout campus and then sent to a lab in Farmville for testing. Both samples
came back roughly 72 hours later without any traces of the e.coli bacteria. These results convinced both B&G and the Office of Drinking Water of the State Board of Health in Danville to officially rescind the boil water notice. On August 23, Director of Marketing & Communications Thomas Shomo ’69 sent an e-mail out to all students, faculty and staff informing them that the tap water was safe to drink and use.
To prevent future contamination, B&G will continue with ongoing testing of the water as well as flush all water lines twice per year. According to Prengaman, flushing the system is particularly important in the summer when the activity is low.
“We treat the water on a continual basis because the water here is well water,” Prengaman said.