McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

November 3, 2009

McAlester not affected by Narconon boil order

By James Beaty

A boil advisory issued for Narconon-Arrowhead remained in effect this morning, but it is has nothing to do with the city of McAlester.

The state Department of Environmental Quality advised Narconon-Arrowhead on Friday that its water was unsafe for human consumption due to the presence of E. coli and should be boiled for one minute before using.

No other sites were named by the DEQ as being involved in the boil order.

However, city of McAlester Utilities Director David Medley said his office had been bombarded with telephone calls on Monday in the wake of Tulsa television station newscasts which mentioned the boil order issued to Narconon-Arrowhead.

“They said it was near McAlester,” Medley said.

Other viewers reported seeing strips running along the bottom of newscasts saying the boil order was for Pittsburg County. One Web story used a McAlester dateline, but did not relate that Narconon-Arrowhead is approximately 17 miles north of McAlester.

Medley said he wanted to assure McAlester residents that the boil order issued by the DEQ for Narconon-Arrowhead does not involve McAlester water, or any water that is treated in McAlester.

“We don’t even serve those people,” Medley said. “They don’t use our system.”

The DEQ also confirmed again on Monday afternoon that no cities or water districts near Narconon-Arrowhead were involved in the boil order for the facility.

Narconon-Arrowhead is residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility at the site of the former Arrowhead State Lodge, near Canadian.

It gets its water from the Pittsburg-Crowder Rural Water District Water No. 1, according to DEQ spokesperson Skylar McElhaney.

However, samples from the rural water district were OK, according to McElhaney. Also, no problems were found in water samples from Canadian, the closest town to Narconon-Arrowhead, McElhaney said.

The DEQ issued the boil advisory for Narconon-Arrowhead after water samples taken at the site indicated the presence of E. coli, according to DEQ

“To ensure the water is safe for human consumption, water served from the Narconon-Arrowhead system should be vigorously boiled for one minute before drinking, use in food preparation, washing dishes or brushing teeth,” according to the DEQ advisory.

Although personnel at Narconon-Arrowhead were maintaining that the water is now safe to drink, McElhaney said Monday afternoon that the DEQ will determine when the boil order should be lifted.

“I have spoken with the DEQ engineer for that facility,” McElhaney said. “He will be providing technical assistance to Narconon this week to remedy the situation and eventually get the boil order advisory lifted.”

Since samples from the rural water district were OK, the tests pinpointed Arrowhead-Narconon as the source of the problem according to McElhaney.

“It could be a problem in their distribution system,” she said. Problems could also be caused by breaks or leaks in water lines, she noted. Positive tests could even result from someone inadvertently sticking a thumb or finger in the water as the sample was being taken, according to McElhaney.

Meanwhile, Narconon-Arrowhead CEO Gary Smith said on Monday that he believes the matter had been taken care of by flushing the lines and adding more chlorine to the water distribution center at the facility.

Although the water is treated when it is purchased, more chlorine can be added to a water tank on the facility grounds if necessary.

New samples were driven to the DEQ offices for more testing on Monday, he said. Narconon-Arrowhead is awaiting the results.

Smith said no illnesses have been reported in connection with the water at the facility.

Although he believes the water is now safe, he said the facility will continue to comply with the boil order until it’s lifted by the DEQ.

“We also have purified water” for drinking, he said.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.