Mississippi officials say water in state capital is safe one day after E. coli scare

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Water flows from Charles McCaskill’s home, Sept. 7, 2022, in south Jackson, Miss. state health officials told residents in Mississippi’s capital to boil their tap water on Jan 11, 2024, after traces of E. coli bacteria were found in the city’s supply — a result the manager of Jackson’s long-troubled water system disputed while calling it a devastating setback for rebuilding trust. (AP)

JACKSON, Miss, Jan 13, (AP): One day after Mississippi health officials told residents in the state’s capital that dangerous bacteria could be in their tap water, the state health department said Friday that city water was safe to consume.
Mississippi health officials lifted their health advisory after a new round of test results did not find E. coli in Jackson’s supply. The announcement reverses the Mississippi Department of Health’s Thursday instructions for Jackson residents to boil their water before consuming it.
The move came hours after Ted Henifin, Jackson’s interim water manager, said repeat samples taken from the city’s water system tested negative for E. coli. The new round of results, which were collected from the same locations where state officials reported positive results the day before, show the previous test was likely a false positive caused by lab contamination, Henifin said.
Henifin said state regulations require officials to obtain clean results for two consecutive days before lifting a boil-water notice. It was not immediately clear why the state health department reversed its notice after only one day.
Greg Flynn, a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Health, confirmed in an email that the boil-water notice had been lifted but did not offer any additional details. In a statement Thursday, the health department stood by the initial test results and dismissed the idea that its lab had been contaminated.
At news conferences on Thursday and Friday, Henifin said state officials refused to validate the lab results before issuing the boil-water notice.
“I still do not understand why the Mississippi Department of Health issued the city-wide boil-water notice before confirming the initial results,” Henifin said. “The damage to confidence in our water system and economic impact to our area businesses is enormous.”
State health officials imposed boil-water notices in Jackson and the nearby suburb of Flowood following positive results in both cities Thursday. The bacteria’s presence indicated that the water may have been contaminated with human or animal waste, the department initially said.
Flynn said the boil-water notice is still in effect in Flowood, pending further tests.
Henifin said it was unlikely that samples from Jackson and Flowood would be contaminated at the same time because the cities’ water systems are not connected and do not draw from the source.
A federal judge appointed Henifin in November 2022 to oversee reforms to Jackson’s long-troubled water system after infrastructure breakdowns during the late summer of that year caused many city residents to go days and weeks without safe running water.
The E. coli scare came just days before the expected arrival of a blast of cold weather that could further disrupt the local water infrastructure. Cold snaps in 2021 and 2022 caused frozen pipes and drops in water pressure across Jackson.
The positive tests and boil water notices sent lab technicians scrambling to test samples from 120 locations ahead of the winter weather.

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