Lake Erie island’s wells are tested
By John Seewer
Associated Press-Canton Repository
Published August 27th, 2004
Investigators trying to track down the source of an outbreak
of gastrointestinal illnesses on a Lake Erie resort island
are focusing on drinking water.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials ordered
inspections Thursday on private wells to determine whether
they are connected to and contaminating the village of
Put-in-Bay’s drinking water system.
The concern is that leaking septic tanks could be contaminating
well water and then flowing back into the clean drinking
There’s no evidence yet that is happening, said Heidi
Griesmer, an EPA spokeswoman, who called the order a precautionary
“We know what’s coming out of the plant is meeting water
quality standards,” she said. “We don’t know if there’s
contamination being introduced somewhere in the distribution
The Ohio Department of Health said Thursday that investigators
have talked with 1,020 people who say they fell ill after
visiting South Bass Island and the surrounding area, which
is about halfway between Toledo and Cleveland.
All but a few visited the island. Some say they were
sickened after visiting within the last week. About 40
people spent time in a hospital, the health department
The department has tested a handful of samples from those
who say they suffered from chills, fever, diarrhea and
vomiting. Eighteen people tested positive for one of two
types of bacterial infections or one type of viral infection.
Those test results led investigators to begin focusing
on whether there could be any cross-contamination between
private wells and wastewater systems.
“That would give us an indication that this cross-contamination
issue is what’s going on here,” said Jay Carey, an Ohio
Department of Health spokesman. “We don’t know that for
Teams of investigators have been testing water samples
from both homes and businesses on the island.
The EPA ordered four businesses Thursday to stop using
its water after tests found that wells at those businesses
contained E. Coli or bacteria, Griesmer said.
Well water at one of the businesses — an island winery
— earlier tested positive for E. coli. A second test last
week found no bacteria.
No one, though, has tested positive for E. coli.
In addition to inspections of auxiliary wells, which
island residents often use for watering lawns or washing
cars, the EPA asked for increased monitoring of private
The health department recommended island residents use
bottled water or boil their well water.
Nearly all the businesses on the island get their water
from the village’s water system.
Put-in-Bay Mayor Mack McCann has said the village’s water
system has been tested regularly with no negative results.
Businesses on the island, a popular summer getaway filled
with bars, restaurants and charming inns, has taken a
hit in the last two weeks.
Most people said they became sick within two or three
days of visiting the island. Symptoms have generally lasted
about 24 hours.