Portland Tap Water Declared Off-Limits After E. Coli Is Found In The Water Supply

If you live in the Portland area, don't drink the tap water. In the last three days, the Portland Water Bureau has found E. coli in the water supply in three separate tests. Now, the bureau has issued a city-wide boil notice until further notice, urging citizens to boil tap water before consuming it or even using it to brush your teeth. The Portland Water Bureau has issued a statement on its site, explaining both the situation and the notice.

City employees were making routine inspections of two of Portland's Mt. Tabor reservoirs when they produced three positive E. coli tests. As a result, the State of Oregon Health Authority's Drinking Water Program has required the boil notice to be issued to all Portland Water Bureau customers and some regional water providers, applying to approximately 670,000 people.

Between May 20 to May 23, in three separate tests, repeat water samples confirmed the presence of E. coli in drinking water samples. The two reservoirs where the samples were taken have both been taken offline. Portland's statement lists a number of reasons that could have caused the contamination, such as loss of water pressure, a burst pipe, or conditions that expose the water to outside elements. While the bureau promises to conduct a full investigation into the situation, they seem confident that the outbreak is not dire.

"While we believe at this time that the potential health risk is relatively small, we take any contamination seriously and are taking every precaution to protect public health," Portland Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff said in the release.

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Essentially, the boil notice asks all Portland Water Bureau and citizens in the affected areas to boil tap water for at least one minute before using it for consumption, food preparation, ice, or tooth brushing. Any ice, beverages, or food made with unboiled tap water on or after May 20 should be tossed. For detailed maps, fact sheets, and additional information, visit the bureau's website.

E. coli may sound like a foreign and exotic illness, but just Thursday the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention announced that there had been seven confirmed and three reported cases of E. coli in Idaho and Washington. Preliminary investigations point to raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts LLC of Idaho.

So what is E. coli, exactly? There is actually E. coli bacteria in your intestines right now, as most forms are harmless and actually contribute to a healthy intestinal system. However, some are pathogenic and will make you sick. Symptoms of an E. coli infection include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting. Victims usually feel better between five and seven days, but occasionally the infection can be severe and cause a type of kidney failure called hemolytic-uremic syndrome. Elderly adults and children under five are the most at risk.

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Between tap water, clover sprouts, and hummus, it's been a busy week for foodborne illness, but luckily for New Yorkers, the health department has figured out an ingenious way to track it: Yelp. For Portland residents, however, just keep that kettle close... and scrap your Kool-Aid plans for Memorial Day.