JEA conducts follow-up tests in response to positive result for E. coli

Boil water advisory in effect for parts of St. Johns County

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – With several St. Johns County neighborhoods under a boil water advisory in response to a positive test for E. coli, News4Jax on Wednesday toured JEA’s water testing lab as samples undergo additional tests to check for contamination.

The advisory was issued Tuesday evening for customers in Northwest St. Johns County after a sample taken from a raw water well at the St. Johns North Water Treatment plant registered a positive result for the bacteria, according to the boil water notice.

A spokesperson said the sample that triggered the advisory was collected Monday from a well on Ivy Lakes Drive. The sample, which was taken before the water was treated with chlorine and fed into the distribution system, was one of roughly 200 samples JEA collects each month.

Neither the spokesperson nor Kevin Holbrooks, director of lab services for JEA, would answer direct questions about how whether customers could safely use ice or brush their teeth with tap water. Both instead deferred to Tuesday’s boil water notice.

Among the neighborhoods impacted are Aberdeen, Cimarrone, Johns Creek, Rivertown, Shearwater, and South Hampton, along with parts of Durbin Crossing and Julington Creek Plantation. Customers should boil any water they plan to cook with or drink.

Angela Cimino-Washington, the lab manager for JEA’s biology department, walked News4Jax through the water-testing process. She said scientists sterilize a cart and then place a series of samples inside. The samples are mixed with what’s called colilert, a substance that detects the presence of E. coli.

“These are the actual samples from the St. Johns County neighborhoods,” she said.

The mixtures are then closed and stored in a refrigerated container. Then scientists place them in a warming bath for 20 minutes or until they’re ready for incubation, which lasts about 18 hours. Once incubated, the samples will show if they’re contaminated or not with positive tests having a darker color.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, harmful strains of E. coli can cause a variety of illnesses, ranging from diarrhea to pneumonia depending on the strain.

So far, one batch of test results showed no contamination, according to JEA. A second set of results is still pending. But if that set also tests negative, the utility anticipates that the boil water advisory could be lifted as soon as 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

At this point, it’s a waiting game. It’s recommended that customers living in the affected neighborhoods boil any water they want to cook with or consume for the next 24 hours. Water should be boiled for at least one minute and then cooled. Bottled water is another option.

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