After several residents in Madison County began to mysteriously fall ill during the early summer, it wasn't until residents began to receive a release from the Madison County Utility District in August stating it found contaminants in the water in June that people began to think there could be a correlation between the two.
One of which is Gina Gregory, whose mother passed away in early August from E. coli, and whose uncle was also confirmed to have E.coli shortly before her mother.
E. coli are types of bacteria within the total coliform group and are indicators of fecal pollution and the possible presence of pathogens.
Gregory said it wasn't until receiving her mother's death certificate shortly after the notice was sent out, which ruled E. coli her cause of death, that she began to look into things further.
She stated her mother began to show symptoms about four weeks prior to her death of being overly fatigued, short of breath, loss of appetite and even passing out in the grocery store.
"These were out of the ordinary for her," Gregory said. "...Whether or not we can say it was related to the water, we can't be 100%, but the timeframe was right."
On June 11, a routine monitoring sample of the 30 monthly samples taken tested positive for E. coli bacteria, a public notice from the Madison County Utilities District stated.
The statement said that per their regulations in regards to a positive test, repeat samples were taken at the location, both upstream and downstream the following day on June 12.
In the public notice, the upstream sample indicated there was total coliform bacteria present, but not E. coli. On June 13, another sample was taken which were all free of contamination.
And while the county utility district pulled the appropriate samples, they failed to notify the Kentucky Division of Water or their customers as required by regulations, until almost two months later. A boil water advisory was not issued as would have been required the day the positive sample was found on June 12.
In their late notice to the public, the utility company states, "We were required to issue a boil water advisory to the customers affected by the positive sample within 24 hours of the sample, but failed to do so." This notice was sent out towards the end of August.
In an interview with The Register, the utility district's attorney, Jud Patterson, said that the communication fell through when Rural Water Association, who complies with public notices, failed to recognize the positive sample sent to them from Madison County Utilities District.
"Madison County Utilities District (MCUD) follows a strict water testing schedule that requires regular sampling of the water quality," he said. "The sampling is performed and the samples are sent to a lab to be tested. The lab results are communicated back to the utility who then takes action if a bad sample is received. MCUD partners with the Rural Water Association who provides expertise in analyzing samples and complying with state and federal regulations regarding public notices. Rural Water failed to recognize the positive sample and did not prepare the appropriate notice to be issued."
Because of this, the Madison County Utility District has acquired two violations for the Revised Total Coliform Rule due to E. coli and violating the Public Notification Rule due to not issuing a boil water advisory, according to John Mura, the executive director for the communication office at the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.
He said that prior to the June incident, the system hadn't had a violation since 2013 for failing to provide customers with an annual report in regards to the quality of drinking water and the risks from exposure to contaminants detected in drinking water.
"Because there was a violation, it is now in the process of being referred to the Division of Enforcement, which will negotiate a penalty," Mura explained. "The maximum penalty can be up to $25,000 per violation."
Gregory said the utility district should be held liable.
"If they failed to announce to the public for safety purposes, they need to have huge fines implemented on them, and they have to have someone held accountable," she said. "If it can save one life by doing something like that it, it would have been worth it. …It just shows a complete disregard, whether or not this is what killed my mother, regardless, they have put innocent people at risk, that's the big picture."
Patterson said that, in addition to working with Rural Water to improve their checks and balances, MCUD is creating sampling stations that will eliminate unnecessary risk of positive samples.
"Most positive samples come from the sampling site and do not reflect a contamination of the water system, which is what we expect happened in this case," he said. "Sampling stations are easier to disinfect before sampling and easier to protect from environmental sources of contaminants (dogs, cats and other mammals)."
According to their website, the Madison County Utility District services 502.9 miles of water mains and has more than 11,000 customer connections.
Patterson said that his office had received calls in regards to this release and concerns for sickness but that, "everyone is doing everything possible to insure the water is safe, after all it's the same water they drink."
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.