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City officials said that several pigeons living in Hinckley, Minn.'s, main water tower caused a water-contamination scare that closed schools for the day and sent residents scrambling for bottled water.
State health officials discovered E. coli bacteria in a downtown water line during routine testing and notified the city Wednesday afternoon that it should advise businesses and residents not to drink the water or use it for food preparation without boiling it.
The presence of E. coli indicates that water might be contaminated with human or animal wastes that can cause diarrhea, nausea and other problems, especially for infants, children and those with weakened immune systems.
"There have been no reports of anyone becoming ill," said Hinckley Mayor Tom Lymburner. "The bacteria were found in three locations that are all on the same block as the water tower."
Lymburner said the pigeons including one that had a nest with four eggs were found Wednesday evening and were immediately removed. Testing has shown no evidence of the bacteria any farther than one block from the water tower, he said, but as a precaution the entire system needs to be flushed with "super-chlorinated" water to kill any bacteria that could be in the pipes.
Because chlorination, additional flushing and retesting need to be done, the approximately 450 businesses and households connected to the system will need to boil water until next Monday or Tuesday, Lymburner said.
Free bottled water is available at City Hall and at Daggett's Supervalu a few blocks away. Donations have come from the store and from a host of other organizations including Wal-Mart and the Mille Lacs band of Chippewa.
Grocery store owner Bea Daggett said she was shocked when she heard of the boiling order, and immediately shut down the deli and turned off water to everything from the capuccino machine to the "misters" in the produce department.
"I don't think there's panic about this," she said. "But some people are wondering how long this has been going on if there's a nest in the water tower."
City Administrator Jim Ausmus said Hinckley's water is tested every other week, but not always at the same places. Mayor Lymburner said the water tower was last inspected on Aug. 16, and that a hatch in its top was secure at that time.
(Source: Star Tribune)