Bacteria found in Stafford water


Leaders of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District were surprised twice last week.

And both surprises were bad news.

Just a few days after receiving word from Coffey Laboratories that water at Stafford Primary School contained coliform bacteria, the district was informed Monday that the Northeast Portland lab had its certification suspended by the state Division of Public Health.

According to Mike Skeels, interim Public Health Division administrator, Coffey's certification was suspended because of alleged inaccurate test results and ineffective quality assurance measures for Coffey's testing procedures.

'To get the suspension lifted,' Skeels said, '(Coffey) will have to file a plan of corrective action and tell us how they're going to fix the problems they have. Then, our staff will review those and conduct an on-site inspection.'

Skeels said it would be difficult to determine if the recent tests at Stafford were valid because Coffey tests 439 public water systems.

Besides turning the water off at Stafford, School District Facilities Manager Pat McGough said the district already had protected itself - without knowing about Coffey's problems - because the school's current water problem is significant. Instead of having the quarterly test conducted only by Coffey, as it has done for at least the past decade, water also was sent to another lab for the proverbial 'second opinion.'

'When you make this kind of effort,' McGough said, 'we wanted to make sure that we were doing it for the right reason. Coffey Lab's results were not the only reason that we decided to take this action.'

Alexin Analytical Laboratories of Tigard performed the same tests and reported the same results: that coliform bacteria was found in Stafford's drinking water.

The water faucets and drinking fountains at Stafford were immediately shut off, and all of the students and staff began drinking bottled water and cleaning with hand sanitizer - a scenario that started March 3 and will continue until after the spring break, McGough said Monday.

Students and staff are using about 25 cases of bottles a day, McGough said. Each case varies from 24 to 35 bottles, making the daily usage more than 700 bottles.

Currently, the district can't do much about finding and fixing the source of the problem. In order to fix the source of contamination, the wellwater system would have to be shut down. The school would therefore not have the use of restrooms, a situation that no one could tolerate.

Instead, McGough decided to provide bottled water until the spring break, and complete the work during the week students and staff are on vacation.

This week, the district will gain approval and begin installation of the chlorination system.

The rest of the work begins Saturday, he said, including installation of a new pressure tank and well pump. The backflow devices on the irrigation system and fire pump have either been repaired or replaced.

'The failed backflow device on the fire pump is potentially the source of contamination,' McGough said. 'It's not the only possible source, but it is a likely leading candidate.'

But the water system, which was installed in 1967, is in need of improvements - although it is not a budgeted project. The 1,000-gallon underground pressure tank, which McGough said could be rusting and leaking, will be replaced by a more efficient 33-gallon tank.

'We've gotten our money's worth out of the system,' he said, 'so we'll upgrade the whole system, all at once.'

By next Monday afternoon, McGough is hoping that all work will be completed, and the system can be chlorinated. They will let the chlorine stay in the system for a couple of days and send a test sample to Alexin Wednesday.

'We're hoping to certify by Thursday that we can use the water,' he said. If anything goes wrong, we still have Friday and the weekend, but by the following Monday when kids come back we'll have the water ready to go.'