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Unsafe water sample at Wauwatosa's Madison Elementary School an isolated case

Madison Elementary School took precautions

Oct. 31, 2012

A water sample collected last week at Madison Elementary School tested positive for unsafe levels of total coliforms, but a followup test of a sample taken Monday found the coliforms absent and the water to be safe, Water Utility Superintendent James Wojcehowicz said Tuesday.

"I'm not sure we'll ever know" why coliforms registered present in the sample taken Oct. 24, Wojcehowicz said. E. coli was not among the coliforms found in the sample taken last week.

He said the unsafe finding was unusual.

Coliforms are a broad class of bacteria found in the environment.

"Most of the coliform family doesn't cause you to get sick at all," said James Beix, environmental health manager for the Wauwatosa Health Department. "But there's a sub-family … that can get us sick. The good part of this sample, there was no E. coli tested in the initial sample, but the total count was higher than allowed by the (Department of Natural Resources)."

Lori Lester, principal at Madison Elementary, said no students or staff became ill. She took precautions in the interim to restrict access to city water at the school. The school covered all water fountains, made hand sanitizers available and posted signs near all bubblers, bathrooms and entryways alerting students, staff and visitors to the situation. Sodexo, the food service provider, moved food preparation to Whitman Middle School.

Lester said water was provided at the school in large commercial bottles, and, in addition, parents were asked to send children to school with a water bottle from home.

Lester said Friday was an off-day for students, reducing their exposure to city water before the school was notified. Teachers and staff were at work Friday, but none became ill.

Wojcehowicz said water downstream and upstream from the school was tested, and found safe. He said the positive test was isolated just to the elementary school.

On Tuesday, the school had sent an alert to parents, and was sending a letter to them as well to announce the clean water test, said Peggy Plewa, administrative assistant at Madison. The school set aside the extra precautions it had taken, she said.

In accordance with DNR regulations, the city Water Utility is required to send 50 water samples per month - 600 a year - to the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene in Madison for testing. Samples are taken at 18 sites around the city, three times a week, he said.

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