Fountain Hills officials plan to have an expert explain at an upcoming Town Council meeting that bacterial contamination found in the town’s water last month isn’t a threat to residents.
Coliform was found in two tests conducted in late August by the Chaparral City Water Company, which serves Fountain Hills and parts of Scottsdale. Coliform bacteria originate as organisms in soil or vegetation and in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals as fecal coli, according to the National Ground Water Association.
Robert Hanford, district manager for the water company, said federal rules require residents be notified of positive findings if fewer than 40 tests are done in a month. Chaparral tested Fountain Hills water 36 times last month. Hanford added that after the two positive tests, two additional tests revealed no coliform.
Town Manager Tim Pickering said Hanford will make a presentation at the Town Council’s Oct. 6 meeting. Pickering said he needed to know more about the issue before commenting.
Councilman John Kavanaugh said Hanford was invited because residents have questions about how the town notified residents and if Chaparral did its job properly.
"We want to put people’s minds at ease," Kavanaugh said. "It’s best to let someone from the company explain."
In a Sept. 13 letter to Fountain Hills residents, Hanford wrote: "Coliforms . . . are used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful, bacteria may be present. Coliforms were found in more samples than allowed and this was a warning of potential problems."
He added that no traces of bacteria of greater concern were found and the coliform problem was resolved. He said no corrective actions, such as boiling water, were necessary.
Hanford said detecting coliform that isn’t shown in later tests could come from a compromised or mishandled sample, or a lab result with a false positive. He said there’s no way to tell which applies.
"Most of the time, things like this happen because of compromised samples," Hanford said. "There’s no threat to residents. That’s why we retest."
Susan Butler, client service manager for Phoenix-based Legend Technical Services of Arizona, the lab that tests Fountain Hills’ water, said company personnel aren’t allowed to comment on client samples. She agreed with Hanford that there’s no way to tell what happened.
Fountain Hills resident Jeff Smalle said he’s not afraid of the water, but wonders about how the situation was handled.
"I was concerned, but the way it was presented in the letter was watered down," Hanford said. "I think they didn’t want to say it’s dangerous."