Residents angry about E. Coli in water system
PANGBURN, Ark. (KTHV) - People in part of White County are nervous about the water coming into their homes. They have been told to boil it because of an E. coli scare, and they think it reflects a bigger problem with their water district.
“The joke around town,” Nathan Pruss said, “is: you don’t drink Pangburn water. Friends don’t let friends drink Pangburn water.”
The Arkansas Department of Health issued a boil order for Pangburn Water on Tuesday after receiving two samples that showed the presence of E. coli, which can lead to nausea, diarrhea, cramps, and fever.
The sample was found at a location on the far end of the area the district serves. The first sample was collected on August 30, and the confirmation sample was collected September 12.
The sampling location was “on a vacation place,” stated Bonnie Hardcastle, a commissioner for the water district. “The unit had not been used in a long time, so water had sat there. It had every opportunity to absorb… if it had a leak in the line, it would’ve absorbed it through the leak.”
According to an engineer from ADH, the bacteria likely came from the sampling site, as opposed to the treatment facility. “I think they did 21 or 22 different tests,” Harcastle mentioned, “and that was the only one that they had a problem with.”
While the bacteria was limited to one location, the entire system was placed on a forced boil order as a precaution. E. coli is most often associated with fecal matter, but Hardcastle claimed that a number of factors could explain the positive result, including seepage from the ground through a leak in the pipe, or a decaying insect.
Pruss and many other customers, however, are worried about the worst-case scenario of feces infecting their water. “And way you look at it, E. coli is feces,” he said. “That is, it is intestinal waste, and I mean it is human waste. And I mean, nobody wants to drink that. It’s disgusting. It’s just like, as bad as, it’s like using the bathroom and the toilet, and turning around and drinking the water. Nobody wants to do that!”
Pruss has lived in Pangburn for seven years, and claims his water is often low quality. He claimed it often comes out of the faucet brown, and he always uses bottled water. “We don’t let our dogs drink the water,” he said.
The lone exception he makes is for ice, and he believes it led to an illness he dealt with all last week, and that his daughter currently suffers from. Pruss visited the doctor last week, who urged him to never drink the tap water. “He goes, ‘I get more people in here with stomach issues and sickness, and they’re all from Pangburn,’” Pruss recalled. “He goes, ‘if it walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.’”
David Wilson has a unique perspective on the city’s water troubles. As an alderman, he believes he has a good understanding of the quality of Pangburn’s water system.
“I’m happy with it,” he said. “I’m very happy with it. We’ve come a long way with that new treatment facility, and we’re constantly working to make it better. Yeah, we have old lines going through town, but we have a brand new system down there, and give us a few years, you’re gonna see all these kinks go out.”
He also runs a restaurant, Southern Girls BBQ. He said he is confident enough to drink the tap water even during the boil order, but knows his customers will likely not feel the same way. He buys jugs of water to make tea, and rented an ice cooler to store bags of ice.
“It’s a lot of work,” Wilson noted, “but we do take it very serious, for the restaurant.”
Wilson and Hardcastle agreed that a lack of resources is hampering Pangburn Water. It only has three employees, including a supervisor who spends most of his time collecting test samples and repairing problems. They believe the new treatment plant is a great improvement, but it is not as effective as it should be.
“We had some contract work, we had some issues with it,” Wilson explained. “The building is done and the facility is set up now, but there is still some things that need to have the contractors and the engineers come back and straighten out, that may not have been done exactly right when they first done it.”
Hardcastle agreed that old water lines could cause more problems. “Because this new system, we’ve got a lot more pressure than we had before,” she mentioned. “So any small leak, with this new pressure, is going to be hammered at that leak, until it’s a large leak.”
Communication is another concern for Pangburn Water. When a boil order is issued, the board places signs along the street in the heart of the town, sends notices to local news outlets, and posts a message to Facebook, but those methods do not guarantee that residents will get the information quickly, if at all. Many residents believe a phone call would be the best way to disseminate information, but with only three employees, Hardcastle said there are not enough resources, nor room in the budget, to make that happen.
Pruss thinks the district’s superintendent should take more responsibility, but adds that he was set up to fail by the city’s leadership. “And if you don’t have the right equipment for it, it’s time you stand up, and you do what it’s going to take to make the people that are in your community, the kids that your kids play ball with and stuff…it’s time that you make them safe, and you do your job and you fix the problem,” he said.
Pruss believes Pangburn Water should be dissolved, and another city, such as Searcy, should be entrusted to deliver water service. “I’m willing to spend more on water that I know is safer than what I’ve got right now,” he said.
“We want good water, too,” Wilson said, “and we want it taken care of in a timely manner. But we can’t get out there and tell everybody that. They see bad water and they don’t know what’s going on.”
Pangburn Water sent a new sample to be tested Tuesday, and is awaiting the results. If the test comes back showing no trace of E. coli, a second sample will be tested. A second negative result will allow ADH to remove the boil order.