Boil water alerts ‘Not our job,’ MSDH says

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 4, 2016

Boil water alerts ‘Not our job,’ MSDH says.

The overwhelming response to Friday’s web site and Facebook posting about a boil water alert for customers of the Pope-Courtland Water Association was something like: “Wish I’d known this earlier, I’ve been drinking it all day.”
That has been a recurring problem when these boil water notices are issued — many water customers don’t learn about it until they’ve drunk the water. Usually these boil water notices are issued from an abundance of caution. Last week, the Pope-Courtland system had lost power due to a storm, allowing water pressure inside the supply pipes of the north part of its system to drop.
The association notified the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) about the pressure loss, and MSDH notified the media “as a courtesy,” a spokesman there said Monday. However, the MSDH spokesman said, responsibility for notifying water customers is the job of the water system itself.
When I asked if there could be a way for affected water customers to receive more immediate notice about their need to boil water, the MSDH spokeman said, “Well, they could have done door hangars.”
I don’t know how long it would take the Pope-Courtland Water Association to produce over 1,400 door hangars and then to hang them on that many customers’ doors, but I would bet it is something less than immediate.
We had called MSDH to learn if other communities or other media might have a better method to notify water customers about boil water alerts. What we learned is that the MSDH spokesman was more interested in us being made aware that providing notice is the water system’s job, not the Mississippi State Department of Health’s.
When I said, “That’s arrogant;” she said, “This conversation’s over.
And it was.
There are upteen water systems in Panola and that many more in every county in the state. I am sure that some provide boil water alerts more immediately than others. But regardless of whose job it is, MSDH could be a better steward of our health by helping us spread the word faster about boil water alerts.
Again, this alert was posted out of an abundance of caution, but if water association customers around the state are continually notified of a need to boil water hours after they have been drinking it, soon they will become like the boy who cried “Wolf.” Customers will shrug them off and someday a crucial boil water notice will be ignored.  

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