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May 25, 2014:

PORTLAND -- The Portland Water Bureau lifted its boil water alert Saturday after issuing a city-wide notice due to E. coli contamination.

Follow-up testing of drinking water has shown the absence of bacterial contamination, said Tim Hall, spokesman for the water bureau.

Hall recommended flushing all taps for two minutes, or until the water runs cold, before drinking the water.

"This will flush any potentially contaminated water from the plumbing," he said.

As a precaution, the affected Mt. Tabor reservoirs would be drained and cleaned.

Hall said the cause of the contamination was still being investigated.

FAQ: What to do after boil water alert

The city issued the boil alert Friday morning for the entire water district after the city detected E. coli in water samples.

At a press conference at noon Friday, Water Bureau Director David Shaff said this was the largest boil water alert in the city's history, impacting some 670,000 water customers.

The city recommended at the time leaving water at a full rolling boil for over a minute before using it.

The source of the contamination was Mount Tabor reservoirs 1 and 5. The alert included the city of Portland, but also the cities of Tigard, King City, parts of Gresham and other districts.

In three separate incidents from May 20 to May 23, repeat water samples confirmed the presence of total coliform and E. coli in routine drinking water samples, Shaff said.

Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis said the E. coli came from animal fecal matter. The most likely symptom from people drinking contaminated water would be diarrhea. Lewis said that he did not believe many people would be impacted.

E. coli fact sheet

The city tests water in the system about 240 times a month. In addition to the Mount Tabor Reservoirs, contaminated water was found at the Southeast 2nd Avenue and Salmon Street water sampling station, according to the city.

Reservoir 5 was the center of controversy in April when the city declared it would flush 38 million gallons of water into the sewers after a teenager allegedly urinated in the water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that people should boil tap water even if it is filtered. Most kitchen and other household water filters typically do not remove bacteria or viruses.

Medical experts told KGW on Friday that E. coli can take up to two days to incubate in someone, and symptoms may not show up immediately.

Doctor John Heiser, an emergency room physician at Providence St. Vincent s Medical Center, said the elderly, young children and people with chronic illnesses were most at risk.

The symptoms from e-coli infection include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or cramps.

It's usually no more than a 24-hour illness, Heiser said. Even if someone gets this illness, they should be able to get rid of it on their own.

Contamination can occur when there is a loss of water pressure, a pipe break, or conditions that expose drinking water to outside elements, the city said.

An investigation into the problem was under way.

For more information, water users can call the Portland Water Bureau customer service at 503-823-7770.

The City of Portland Water Bureau provided these answers to common questions:

What's going on?

A boil water notice means that water from the tap should not be consumed in any form unless it has been brought to a rolling boil for a full minute. This notice is required by the State and Federal government when water quality standards are suspected of being compromised.

What do I do?

All water used for drinking, brushing teeth, gargling, food preparation, rinsing dishes and ice making should be boiled at a full rolling boil for at least 1 minute. Ice or any beverages prepared with unboiled tap water should be discarded.

Activities that require boiled water:

Washing food served without cooking or baking; adding water to food without cooking/baking; ice making; cleaning food contact surfaces.

Activities that do not require boiled water:

Showering (do not allow water in mouth); baths; laundering, general cleaning, pet watering or bathing, and watering plants.

How will I know when I can stop boiling water?

The boil water notice is in effect until further notification from the Water Bureau.

Will my in-home filtration system or hot water tap work as a substitute?

Filtration systems vary considerably. You should boil the water. A hot water on-demand tap will not kill the bacteria.

I own a restaurant, what do I do?

  • Restaurants need to observe the boil water order.
  • Water served to customers must be boiled for at least one minute.
  • This includes water used for ice making, table water, food preparation, and rinsing dishes.
  • Tap water combined with dish soap can be used to clean dishes, utensils and cooking ware. Boiled water must be used to rinse and clean kitchen and dining room surfaces.
  • Call the Multnomah County Health Department (503) 988-3663, extension 24662 for restaurant information. More information will also be available during regular business hours.

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Mark Hanrahan contributed to this report.

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