Department of Natural Resources places Chaffee under boil-water advisory

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

CHAFFEE, Mo. — The city of Chaffee is again under a state-issued boil water order.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources water quality specialist Mike Wyatt discovered Monday the municipal water system had again lost chlorine and issued the order at 3:14 p.m.

"They got zero chlorine at city hall again," said Wyatt's boss, Jack Baker, environmental section chief of the DNR's Poplar Bluff office. Wyatt went on to test several other sites, including a 200,000-gallon storage tank, where a scant 0.05 parts of chlorine was detected among a million parts of water — one quarter of the minimum acceptable amount of the water-sanitizing chemical. A previous 10-day boil-water order was lifted Thursday.

"I told them to get someone that really knew what was going on with these things and get it ironed out once and for all," Baker said. The city is currently receiving mutual aid from certified water plant operators from Scott City.

The city's problems started when public works director Eric Hicks, citing stress and harassment from elected officials, resigned in August. Though his last scheduled day was Sept. 1, the city agreed that it owed him a week's vacation in return for unused time off.

He was not working when public works employee Shannon Hendrix went into the city's water plant, and discovered a malfunctioning chlorinator and the air filling with chlorine gas. He nearly succumbed to the fumes, but was rescued by his brother and coworker. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was treated and released.

A DNR inspection five days later found no chlorine in the city's water system and the first boil water order was issued.

After repeated inspections, the city found that one chlorinator was clogged and replaced it. The second device did not function properly, either. But Hendrix was confident it was working Thursday after a DNR inspection found the city's water supply well chlorinated.

The ongoing water troubles have caused fury among some residents. One, Mark Perkins, read a blunt statement at the city council meeting last week, citing a handful of cities where people died after using improperly managed public drinking water.

"I would not have the audacity to say 'We were wrongly accused,'" he said Monday, referring the Mayor Loretta Mohorc's defense of the city's system last week. "To add insult to injury, she blames the [low-income] housing. Those people have enough struggles as it is."

Perkins said he contacted the DNR, "which was already on the case"; Missouri's attorney general's office; the U.S. EPA and has considered calling the Department of Homeland Security, "because of the violations already."

Perkins said he wants to see city officials "solve problems, not perpetuate them."

Mohorc said she learned of the latest order late Monday after returning from a medical appointment in Cape Girardeau.

"We are so perplexed. We can't figure it out," she said. "What is so strange is, it's using chlorine, but when it goes so far, it appears then it's not using any."

She said the city has also contacted an engineering firm for help as well.

335-6611, extension 127

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