Muddy Waters: Water treatment plant shutdown leaves Rider boiling

By Emily Landgraf

Facilities workers Dan Mullen, Karen March and Bill Burgos, from left, stock buildings with bottled water after the alert. Resident students received two bottles daily from resident advisors.

It was water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink for Rider students this week.
Students on the Lawrenceville campus were subjected to a boiled water alert Monday that was lifted yesterday at 11:20 a.m. The university’s water system had been replaced with bottled water since Monday evening.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) stated in a news release yesterday that the Trenton Water Works utility, which services about 200,000 people in Trenton, Lawrence Township, Ewing Township, Hopewell and Hamilton Township, closed off its intake from the Delaware River on Sunday because of a high flow due to recent rains. The resulting low pressure apparently caused corosion in the pipes to break loose, discoloring water in several townships.

Water tests confirmed that  no bacterial contamination posed a threat, but the DEP lifted the “precautionary” boiled water alert. As of yesterday, students are still being advised to run tap water three to five minutes before consuming it.

The Westminster campus was unaffected by the boiled water alert.

Some students said they were confused about the boiled water alert and what it meant for them.

“I honestly have no idea what’s going on,” said junior David Spadora on Wednesday. “Except for the fact we shouldn’t use the tap, all of my information is via rumor or the neon fliers around campus. I wish the town or the school would clarify what the whole issue is.”

Trenton Mayor Tony Mack and DEP Commissioner Bob Martin have agreed to work together to investigate what happened at Trenton Water Works, according to a release from the DEP.

“While we are of course pleased that the loss of water pressure this week did not pose a health threat, Mayor Mack and I are concerned with how Trenton Water Works handled the situation,” Martin said.  “The Mayor has agreed to cooperate fully with the DEP and to correct any deficiencies that we identify.  Mayor Mack and I share common goals: making sure that customers of Trenton Water Works receive a reliable supply of safe, high-quality drinking water.”

The first boiled water alert was e-mailed to students at 6:33 p.m. on Monday.

According to a release on Monday from the Mercer County Office of Emergency Management, “The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has determined that a potential or actual threat to the quality of water being provided to you currently exists.”

On Tuesday, Dean of Students Anthony Campbell explained that Rider is working to provide students with water and updates.

“We’re doing the best we can,” said Dean of Students Anthony Campbell. “We reacted quickly, I think.”

As of yesterday, approximately 35,000 bottles of water had been handed out to students, faculty and staff. This cost the university about $15,000, according to Campbell.

Junior Michelle Wall, a sister of Alpha Xi Delta, said she does not think the administration did a good job keeping students in the loop.

“Rider came and turned off the water in my sorority house’s kitchen, and we’re unable to even boil the water,” she said Wednesday. “We were left without meals and without information for much too long.”

Junior Steph Foran, an Resident Adviser in Olson Hall, agreed with Wall.

“There’s a lack of communication between the higher-ups and Residence Life, so I couldn’t even tell my residents when it was safe to shower,” she said Wednesday.

Campbell said that the university did everything it could to keep students safe from the turbid water. On Monday evening, Daly’s Dining Hall switched to paper plates and plastic utensils, in case the dishwashers did more harm than good.

Campbell said on Tuesday that, “the health department said that because the dish washing machine in the dining hall gets hot enough we were able to use regular dishes.”

Daly’s employees said they were unable to comment on the boiled water alert, But Aramark took the necessary precautions before cooking food.

The soda machines at Daly’s were not operating because water is needed for the carbonation process. Quench machines were also unusable until yesterday.

“We’re not using the Quench stations because even though it’s filtered, it’s not filtered enough,” Campbell said on Tuesday.

The boiled water alert sent by the university on Monday urged those affected by the issues at Trenton Water Works to bring water to a rolling boil for a minute and then allow it to cool before using the water for drinking, cooking, washing vegetables or fruit, making ice cubes, taking medications, brushing teeth and mixing baby formula or food.

Valerie Kamin, Director of Student Health Services said yesterday she did not know what was wrong with the water, but that no illnesses had been reported.

“I can say that we haven’t had anyone come in here,” she said. “Hopefully it stays that way.”

Showering was fine during the alert as long as none of the water was consumed, and washing clothes was safe, according to Campbell. Students, however, seemed confused as to whether or not bathing was risky.

Other students did not seem concerned in the least about the alert.

“I still wash dishes, brush my teeth, shower and drink the water,” said junior Ethan Grossman on Wednesday. “We were drinking river water before, it was just filtered a little better. Bring it on, particles, bacteria, microorganisms, or whatever else may be in the water.”

Additional reporting by Dalton Karwacki.

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