Long Beach residents are being advised to boil their water or use bottled water after the Nassau County Health Department detected strains of E. coli in the city's water supply.
At a news conference on Friday, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran — joined by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, County Legislator Denise Ford, Long Beach City Council President Anthony Eramo, and county officials — said that the order would remain in effect until additional “water sample results indicate that the water is free of bacteria and safe for consumption.” Testing for the bacteria was expected to run through Sunday, officials said.
Curran said that the county activated an emergency action plan, and said residents with concerns should contact the county's emergency call center at (516) 227-9570.
“The City of Long Beach water system, in consultation with our county Department of Health, is currently investigating the source of the contamination,” Curran said. “Long Beach has already raised the chlorine level, they raised it immediately and are currently flushing out the entire water system. The boil water alert will remain in effect until all water samples result indicate that they are free from bacteria and safe for consumption.”
The order was issued on Friday, and city officials said that the water is currently unsafe to drink for 35,000 residents in Long Beach.
“Consumers are advised to bring all water to a boil, let it boil for one minute, and let it cool before using, or use bottled water,” the county said in a news release. “Boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, and food preparation until further notice. Boiling kills bacteria and other organisms in the water. Discard any ice made prior to today and turn off ice-makers.”
Curran said that the residents of Atlantic Beach, East Atlantic Beach, Lido Beach and Point Lookout were not impacted because they do not use the city’s water system.
Curran said that the county’s Officer of Emergency Management would distribute more than 30,000 bottles of water provided by the state at three sites in Long Beach: Long Beach Catholic Regional School, at 735 W. Broadway; Kennedy Plaza, in front of City Hall at 1 W. Chester St.; and East Elementary School, at 456 Neptune Blvd. By 5 p.m. on Friday, the supplies of bottled water at City Hall had run out quickly, and the city said another shipment was on its way Saturday.
Curran said that the teams are out in force, and that the city is working with the county Health Department to determine the source of the contamination. The alert, Curran and others said, was issued as a precaution. The Health Department has not identified any residents who have become ill. Officials said that in general, E. coli could possibly enter the water supply come from a water main or storage tank.
Dr. Larry Eisenstein, the county’s health commissioner, said that a sample taken from a private residence during what was described as routine testing showed tested positive for E. coli. The water sample was taken between June 18 and June 20 on Grand Boulevard.
“This is a precaution — we review thousands of test results a year — and when we see E. coli, specifically in the water supply, that is a trigger for us to take action to protect the health and well being of residents,” Eisenstein said. “We do not have a case of E. coli and I do not believe we will.”
Still, Eisenstein, Curran and others urged residents to take precautions. Curran told residents to use boiled or bottled water — even when brushing teeth. She stressed that bottled or boiled water should be used for drinking, preparing food and washing dishes until the county can resolve the problem. Any ice made with tap water before Friday should be thrown out. Bathing, officials said, was OK.
Officials could not say when the contamination would be resolved, but officials say they are working quickly to solve the issue.
“We’re going to have our lab open almost around the clock to do sampling as quickly as we can to identify that the source was eradicated,” Eisenstein said. “We can’t for sure say how long this will be in affect.”
Kaminsky, who said he lives near the home where the sample was taken, said that his office was working with the county Health Department.
“It’s important that every parent, and every citizen and every visitor in Long Beach heed this warning loud and clear,” he said. “I’m confident that all steps will be taken that are necessary to purify the water as soon as possible.”
Ford echoed those sentiments and urged residents to reach out to their neighbors who may not have received robocalls or other alerts.
“I have somebody who just moved in next door to my house, and she only has a cell phone, so I called her to let her know, and she was not aware until I called her,” Ford said.
Some symptoms of E.coli include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramping, Eisenstein said. The bacteria may pose a special risk for infants, young children, elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems, officials said.
“Regarding E.coli it is a bacteria that when ingested can cause severe illness,” Eisenstein said. “Most cases of E.coli occur about three to four days after somebody consumes it.”
Asked if residents who may have consumed water in the past day or so should be concerned, Eisenstein said, “We don’t want people to worry but we do want them to know that if they get sick in the next few days, it’s something to get checked out.”
The city issued the announcement on its website and has been notifying residents through its mobile response app, robocalls and emails. Additionally, officials said that city employees and county health inspectors would notify local bars and restaurants about the order and how to take precautions.
“We’re doing everything to make sure that our most precious resource, our water, is safe for everyone to consume as soon as possible,” Eramo said.
The announcement comes as the city prepares for this weekends Pride on the Beach event, which begins Friday, and is expected to attract 30,000 visitors.
“There is a big event happening, and we want to make sure everyone visiting Long Beach knows to bring their bottled water,” Curran said.
Additionally, with temperatures in the 80s this weekend, business owners said that they had been expecting a boost in business after a week of rain.
“Finally, we have no rain, and now we have this happening — this affects us greatly,” said Dan Monteforte, co-owner of Swingbellys BBQ, a popular barbecue joint in the West End that averages 300 diners a night on the weekends, not including bar patrons. “Right now all we’re doing is trying to take precautions.”
Monteforte, who also co-owns Long Beach Sandwich Co. and Blackdoor Burger, said he spent $5,000 on ice alone.
“I can’t use my soda machine now — I have to buy all canned and bottled sodas and I have to get huge jugs of water,” he said. “My employees will have to wash their hands with bottle water — we’re actually boiling water and putting them in dispensers and using them for hand-washing. We don’t have a choice but to find a way to operate, and buy bottled water and operate howevevr we can. I want our guests to know that we’re going to take every precaution to ensure their safety and well-being.”
Alana Greenblatt, the county’s restaurant inspector, said that bars and restaurants should stop using ice machines and use bagged ice, and not use tap water for rinsing produce or other foods that are not fully cooked. She added that ice cream shops should cease using dipper wells for scooping.
“Obviously, they aren’t going to be using their water for food service,” she said. “On the other hand, if it is food that might be cooked, and it is coming to a full boil or a full heat — if you’re boiling pasta — that’s going to be fine. Rinsing the pasta afterward with cold tap water, that’s a big no-no.”