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RAF ALCONBURY, England – In response to the detection last month of E. coli and coliform bacteria in the water supply here, base officials want to conduct an overall review of the on-site water supply system sometime this fiscal year.

E. coli and coliform bacteria were detected in the base’s water system on Oct. 4, according to a base spokesman. While residents were urged to boil their tap water or stick to the bottled variety, no illnesses were attributed to the bacterial discovery and the E. coli was gone by the following week.

While specifics are not etched in stone at this point, base officials likely will work through the civil engineering branches of the Air Force to conduct a study of the water system, said Dr. Jo Guy, environmental flight chief at Alconbury.

The study will be conducted by contracted engineering and public health specialists, Guy said, and could cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000.

Plans are to conduct the study during this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, Guy said. He would not say how long the study would take.

“We might look to [U.S. Air Forces in Europe] to fund this,” he said Tuesday.

The base receives clean water from a local utility and adds extra chlorination on site before the water flows to American faucets on base.

Guy stressed that the type of E. coli found in Alconbury’s water system was a naturally occurring kind that is not the same strain as E. coli 0157:H7, which can cause violent diarrhea or death.

E. coli detection of the more benevolent kind in a water system is used as an indicator that other potentially harmful bacteria could be present, Dr. Michael Beach, an official with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an e-mail last month.

Base officials monitored the Alconbury population for symptoms of any harmful bacteria when the E. coli was detected and found nothing, Guy said.

It’s still unclear what caused the E. coli and bacterial presence in the first place, Guy said, but the study should help clarify how effectively the water system is working.

This brand of E. coli occurs naturally in humans and animals, Guy said, and origins are not always easy to pinpoint.

“People always consider biological systems in black and white terms,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that.”


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