Peter Anderson says it is “common knowledge” that residents should not drink the water at Willington Oaks apartments, where he has lived every school-year since 2005. Luckily, because of this rule, he did not get sick when E. coli was detected in the drinking water in August 2008.

The complex has since been declared free of E. coli.

Other residents were not as fortunate. Some endured stomach cramps and symptoms similar to those caused by food poisoning lasting for two weeks.

“It was like a weird stomach ache I’ve never had before,” said Patrick McConnon, a 7th-semester marketing major.

“You get nervous because you get sick and you don’t know why,” said Chris Schielke, a 7th-semester environmental science major. “I just thought it [feeling sick] was the transfer to a college diet.”

While it was reported in The Daily Campus on Sept. 5 that only a “‘small number’ of students went to Student Health Services with gastronomical symptoms,” some said their conditions were not serious enough for medical attention, but noticeable nonetheless. Schielke said he felt sick for two and a half weeks during the beginning of the semester and on the day he decided to go to the infirmary, New England Realty sent out their notice about the E. coli contamination.

“We all got sick,” said James Halperin, a 7th-semester management and engineering major, referring to himself and his three friends.

According to a consent order issued by the Connecticut Department of Public Health this last month, Willington Oaks incurred two separate violations from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2007 and 2008 for surpassing the legal level of coliform bacteria in their drinking water.

In 2007, the level of total coliform bacteria was exceeded during the monitoring period, from April 1 to June 30. This year, E. coli was detected during the monitoring period, from Aug. 1 to Aug. 30, according to the consent order.

Willington Oaks, managed by New England Realty Management Group, received another violation called a “CCR (consumer confidence rule) complete failure to report,” for not releasing a statement about their 2007 violation within the time constraints set by the EPA, according to an EPA safe drinking water information system violation report.

According to the EPA’s Web site, “the presence of any coliforms in drinking water suggests that there may be disease-causing agents in the water” and it is a violation if any coliform bacteria are detected.

E. coli, or Escherichia coli, is defined by the EPA as “a type of coliform bacteria that are directly associated with fresh feces.”

The cause of the E. coli has not yet been discovered, said William Gerrish, director of communications for the Connecticut Department of Public Health. However, on Sept. 4, inspectors from the Department of Public Health were informed by the property management at Willington Oaks “that pumps for a septic system pump chamber had failed, causing a pump chamber behind unit 128 to overflow,” Gerrish said.

Anderson, a 9th-semester economics major, said septic issues at Willington Oaks are not uncommon. He cited the “Willi Wave,” a drifting smell of sewage that regularly passes through the complex.

“When it rains, stay away from the low points in the yard,” he added. “They need to do a huge plumbing overhaul.”

Willington Oaks eliminated the coliform bacteria in 2007 by “increase[ing] the average amount of chlorine in the distribution system,” according to their annual drinking water report, but E. coli was found again in their water system about a year later, this August. They also reportedly installed a chlorinating system last month, according to Jeffrey Polhemus, chief sanitarian of Eastern Highlands Health District.

Anderson and Schielke said, since their water was deemed safe, the only changes they have noticed have been the addition of aerators on their shower heads and faucets. Aerators typically create a low-flow and decrease water pressure. Anderson said an aerator on his sink has cut the water pressure in half.

Also as a result of the contamination, two of the three wells have been shut off, Polhemus said.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health dealt with Willington Oaks’ 2008 violation by issuing ING, the insurance giant that owns the complex, a consent order. The order asks ING to follow a weekly timetable to test for coliform bacteria and to outline plans for replacing the ground-water wells in the future. If these demands are met within the time constraints, the health department will not pursue “penalties or administrative or judicial action against” them.

October 22, 2008