Water shutdown hits North Carolina college town

AP News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2017 7:26 PM

CARRBORO, N.C. (AP) — Bottled water was rushed Friday to student dorms at North Carolina's flagship public university and nearby nursing homes after a series of malfunctions shut down the municipal water system.

Restaurants and hotels were shuttered, schools in Chapel Hill and Carrboro closed early and operations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shut down after a water treatment plant quit operating. It would be at least Saturday evening and possibly Sunday before normal water service was restored, Orange Water and Sewer Authority Executive Director Ed Kerwin said.

Although some water remained in pipes around the neighboring towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, it may be unsafe, he said. The towns have a combined population of about 77,000.

"Do not use it under any circumstance," Orange County Health Director Coleen Bridger said at a news conference. "Do not drink it; do not use it."

Health department employees were visiting every restaurant and hotel directing them to close, Bridger said. The men's basketball game between North Carolina and Notre Dame scheduled for Saturday night was postponed to Sunday afternoon and moved to Greensboro.

Bottled water was being delivered to nursing homes, county emergency services director Diana Jeffries said.

University housing officials said they were delivering portable toilets and bottled water to on-campus residence halls.

The municipal water agency said supplies were critically low after an early morning break in a major water delivery pipe. The utility had been getting its water from Durham after too much fluoride was released into the water at one treatment plant Thursday.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports (http://bit.ly/2l6Agkk) that federal guidelines recommend adding 0.7 parts per million of fluoride to water supplies to help protect teeth from cavities. OWASA normally adds that amount, said Dr. Tim Wright, chairman of the department of pediatric dentistry at the UNC School of Dentistry.

The problem at the water treatment plant was adding up to 5 parts per million to the water. At 2 and 3 parts per million, chronic or long-term fluoride exposure can damage tooth formation prenatally and in children up to teenagers, Wright said.

At 4 parts per million, fluoride has been associated with hip fractures in post-menopausal women, he said, adding that it takes years of exposure to high levels of fluoride for most people to see such effects. Even people who drink fluoridated water, use fluoride toothpaste and get fluoride treatments at the dentist are not getting enough of it to cause problems, he said.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger declared an emergency. The town said its fire department has contacted nearby agencies to be ready to bring water to fire scenes.