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NAPLES, Italy — Coliform bacteria was in the tap water of about one-third of off-base houses tested in the first phase of a health study by the U.S. Navy in Naples, officials reported.

Forty-eight of 160 houses turned up traces of total coliform and/or fecal coliform bacteria, prompting health officials to warn residents not to consume tap water.

But the presence of the coliform bacteria in nearly one-third of the samplings "might not be scientifically significant," said Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, a spokeswoman for Navy Region Europe.

She said health and environmental experts hired by the Navy are still awaiting results of additional testing done on both water and soil samples taken from the houses, which made up Phase I of the health assessment.

Experts selected houses from 469 questionnaires that were filled out and returned by off-base residents. A total of 1,800 had been sent out.

Total coliform bacteria occur naturally in the environment and generally harmless.

Fecal coliform bacteria typically are found in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals, including humans, and the presence of fecal coliform in water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination, according to the national Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention.

So far, one family has asked to be moved to on-base housing because of the results of tap water testing, Snyder said.

Testing for the coliform bacteria was done locally at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Naples.

But additional tap water and soil samples were sent to an independent laboratory in Germany that can test for other contaminants and chemicals, she said.

"The lab in Germany has the capability … we don’t have here," she said.

The lab is testing water and soil samples for roughly 200 chemicals, such as volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, pesticides, dioxins, and metals and inorganic elements such as arsenic, thallium and copper.

Results from the German lab are trickling in.

Experts are waiting for all of them to do a full validation and risk assessment, which could take as long as 12 weeks, because they’re retesting some of the houses that tested positive, Snyder said.

"Those complete results are still pending. However, if we get preliminary data that indicates a health concern, we will take action."

Phase I of the health assessment now is complete. The experts’ validation and assessment of the results will set the course for Phase II, Snyder said.

In January, the U.S. Navy launched a multimillion-dollar, broad health assessment to determine if living in Naples puts U.S. personnel at risk.

Health and environmental experts led by the Virginia-based Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center began testing and analyzing the air, water and soil in areas where Americans live.

The Navy is posting information on the assessment at:

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