Coliform in water?

An ominous looking legal notice in the classifieds warns residents of Langford Farms in Ivy that the total coliform bacteria in January exceeded federal standards. Coliform, when joined with the word “fecal,” is something you don’t want to hear about, especially in conjunction with the water supply.

Luckily for the folks at Langford, their coliform isn’t fecal, and it’s no big deal, according to Jim Moore at the Virginia Department of Public Health. In fact, coliform is a bacteria that’s everywhere. It’s just that when it survives in a chlorinated water supply like Langford’s, “the assumption is that other harmful coliforms can be surviving as well,” Moore says.

Jacquelyn Collmus is in charge of taking a monthly water sample for the Langford neighborhood— required for a community well. When the January sample tested positive for coliform, it was immediately tested for fecal coliform, but that test came back negative. Collmus had to take four more samples, and one of those samples tested positive again.

The common thread for both positive samples is that they came from Collmus’ kitchen tap. Moore says it’s very easy to find coliform in a kitchen, and he recommends that Collmus not use her sink for samples in the future.  

The federally mandated ad that appeared in the paper warns of diarrhea, cramps, and nausea. No one in Langford suffered these symptoms, according to Collmus. “Federal regulations require a nasty notice,” says Moore. “I think it alarms more people than necessary.”

As for why coliform showed up in Langford, both Moore and Collmus concur: “It was a fluke.”


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