Unknown gas issue leads to water ban at Carlisle Barracks

By TAMMIE GITT | The Sentinel | Published: August 6, 2019

CARLISLE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Carlisle Barracks residents will have to wait until Tuesday at the earliest to learn what caused a problem that led to a do-not-use order for water on the base.

"At the earliest, we may know something by noon [Tuesday] and hopefully that will identify what the situation was," Carlisle Barracks Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Courtney Short said.

The do-not-use order means people on base cannot use water in any way until further notice. It includes flushing toilets, washing hands, using sinks, showers, baths, ice or icemakers, laundry and washing machines or dishwashers, washing cars or watering lawns.

"We are following the guidance and the directives that are coming to us from the state Department of Environmental Protection and their guidance to us with the no-use will keep our families safe," Short said.

In the meantime, residents at Carlisle Barracks will be safe as long as they do not turn on the water, Short said. She did not have any more information about the cause or the risk because officials have to wait for test results.

"If we thought that they were not in a safe situation, then we would change that situation," Short said.

The ban stems from an issue discovered by first responders answering a call around midnight Sunday at one home, Short said. Their detection equipment found abnormal readings for gas emissions from the barracks' water supply.

Further investigation showed the problem existed at locations across the installation, including the garrison commander's home.

Equipment available on base showed that "something was bad" but did not allow personnel to identify what type of gas it could be, Short said.

Officials called in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protect for their expertise as well as the sophistication of the department's equipment to detect the problem.

Thirty-six portable toilets have been placed around the base to serve the residents of its 277 housing units. Base officials have made an initial 400 cases of water available at the commissary, and had given away about 100 by 3 p.m. Monday. Another 157 cases will be available at the private Balfour Beatty housing at the barracks.

The Army Heritage and Education Center runs on a separate water source from the main installation and remains open. Restroom facilities at AHEC are available for barracks residents to use.

The Pennsylvania National Guard Armory on Cavalry Road is also open for residents to use the restrooms and showers.

Short said there's no evidence that the problem with gas in the water system is related to the fish kill at the barracks that was reported last week or to the pipeline work being done in the area.

"The fish kill that happened last week is a separate investigation. And what we noticed in the flowing water around the installation is a separate instance," she said, adding that the base has an isolated system that is not a part of LeTort Creek at any point.

Facebook posts announcing the do-not-use order were met with questions and concerns from people who had used water on the installation that morning, only find out about the ban because they checked Facebook.

Short acknowledged that the Facebook page was used to announce the ban, and that the barracks also has an alert system that sends messages to cell or work phones as well as to work emails. The system also makes telephone calls.

Short said they also held a meeting with Army War College students in which their questions were answered.

"As we know information, we will let the families know. We don't want to keep them in the dark. It's just that the tests are ones that have to go back to the lab so we don't have the information as to what it could possibly be," Short said.

Military retirees who use services at the barracks should check the garrison's Facebook page or watch for announcements in the media on when the installation's facilities will reopen.

As a resident at the barracks, Short said she is with her fellow residents through every step of the current situation, and asked for their patience as the base works through the issue.

"Be patient and hang in there and trust us, and we will take care of them," she said.

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