E. coli outbreak in Missouri drinking water

At least 15 people in Jackson, Missouri have been infected with E. coli bacteria after drinking water at a local fitness center. E. coli is a strain of the bacteria that causes infections in an estimated 70,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Public Health officials from Cape Girardeau County tested a drinking fountain and a faucet at the Class Act Family Fitness Center and confirmed the presence of E. coli in both samples. The fitness center is served by a private well that was shut off immediately following the outbreak.

While officials at the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services are trying to determine the source of the contamination, the owner of the fitness center believes the private well was contaminated with bacteria during rainstorms in April. In an effort to address the problem, the owner has taken several steps to protect his customers, such as removing the drinking fountain, providing bottled water, adding chlorine to the well and installing a chlorinator for future protection. The facility will not provide drinking water until it is deemed safe by health officials.

This example illustrates the importance of carefully monitoring water quality and properly disinfecting water supplies. Chlorine disinfectants help protect public health by maintaining a residual in the water which destroys disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites in drinking water. The vast majority of U.S. water systems that disinfect their water use some type of chlorine-based process, either alone or in combination with other disinfectants.

For more information about the safety benefits of chlorinated water, please visit our website.

(Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.)