Tests confirm it — water was OK to drink all weekend

By Beth Daley and Gideon Gil
Globe Staff / May 5, 2010

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Never mind. The water you were told not to drink all weekend was actually safe, according to test results released yesterday.

Hundreds of water samples taken Sunday, the second day Greater Boston was under a boil-water order because some pond water was flowing through the area’s pipes, show the water was, in fact, as clean as on a normal day.

Just 4 of 820 samples taken from throughout the affected area contained any potentially harmful bacteria, according to results provided to the Globe. That small number of positive samples “is not atypical for a normal day in this time of year,’’ David Gilmartin, a Massachusetts Water Resources Authority spokesman, said in an e-mail.

But that doesn’t mean the boil-water order was a needless hassle for up to 2 million people, officials said, noting that state and federal regulations required the order and that it was impossible to know whether the water was drinkable until tests were performed on it — and that took more than a day.

“This was a precaution. We didn’t know what the quality of the water was going to be like,’’ said Robert Keough, spokesman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The pond water from the Chestnut Hill Reservoir was heavily treated with chlorine in an effort to kill off the bacteria, and the tests showed that the treatment made the water “perfectly drinkable.’’

The samples containing total coliform bacteria were found in Arlington (2 of 28 samples); Boston (1 of 111 samples); and Saugus (1 of 8 samples).

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said four samples contained fecal coliform bacteria. The story has been corrected to note the samples contained total coliform bacteria.

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