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Do-not-drink order lifted for water in the Waterville area

Lee Owens of the Kennebec Water District collected water samples to be delivered for analysis.
Kennebec Water District
Lee Owens of the Kennebec Water District collected water samples to be delivered for analysis.

The Kennebec Water District has lifted its do-not-drink water order in the Waterville area.

In a press release Tuesday afternoon, the district says it sent samples to a lab Tuesday morning, which found the water is free of chemicals.

The district issued the order following a fire at an apartment building Monday, when firefighting foam inadvertently entered the water supply. Water district general manager Roger Crouse says staff did extensive flushing.

"There's proprietary chemicals in this firefighting foam," he says. "It's advertised as fluorine free, so we don't anticipate that there's PFAS chemicals in this water."

The district says the water is safe to use for drinking, cooking and other usual activities. It recommends that customers flush water lines for 3-5 minutes before using. If any unusual odor or foam is detected, water lines should be flushed for at least 15 minutes.

Crouse says the apartment building that caught fire, Elm Towers, appears to have been in compliance with code requirements.

He says it was built in the 1970s and had a required backflow prevention device. But he says a unique plumbing configuration rendered the device ineffective at blocking the foam from the water supply.

"As far as we know, they've been operating in good faith," he said. "There's no negligence here. There's just a gap in the protection. There should have been two backflow devices, the way this is configured, or the single device should have been moved upstream."

Crouse says he doesn't think it's a systemic issue, but the district will evaluate its 187 fire service accounts to make sure there are no gaps in protection.

Tyson Thornton, a vice president of operations at Northern Light Inland Hospital in Waterville, said the facility has a backup water supply that can last 96 hours, and that it was able to "quickly mobilize our emergency water supplies to meet the drinking water needs of our patients and staff."