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Officials: Water in Long Beach safe to drink

State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and local officials on Monday lifted the order that Long Beach residents boil their water after two recent tests did not detect E. coli in the city's public water system. (Credit: Newsday / Shelby Knowles)

State and local officials on Monday lifted the order that Long Beach residents refrain from drinking their tap water after two tests over the weekend did not detect E.coli in the city's public water system.

The announcement came after a water sample last week tested positive for the harmful bacteria, which led local officials to direct city residents to boil their tap water before using it or use bottled water instead.

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said at a Monday morning news conference in Long Beach that tests on Saturday and Sunday came back negative for E. coli.

"With two consecutive rounds with favorable results, the boil water order for this community will be lifted effective immediately," he said. "At this stage, customers should feel confident returning to the public water supply for all uses."

Since Friday, about 35,000 residents had been directed to boil water for drinking, brushing teeth, washing hands when preparing food and bathing infants.

Three Long Beach elementary schools closed Monday because of the order, after the district was notified Sunday that a student who lives within city limits has been diagnosed with a suspected E.coli infection.

An announcement on the Long Beach City School District webpage on Monday said all schools would be back in session beginning Tuesday.

Nassau County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said state and county water engineers and sanitarians are still trying to identify the origin of the contamination.

"When we do get these cases, which is rare and sporadic, very often we don't find the source, but the chlorine that's put in the water eradicates it," he said.

Long Beach officials said water plant operators found a sample Wednesday from Grand Avenue that tested positive for coliforms, an indicator of E.coli. Nine other samples tested negative.

The plant operator collected three more samples Thursday and notified the city at 9:30 a.m. Friday that one from a Grand Avenue home tested positive for E.coli.

Donald Irwin of the county health department said the chlorine routinely added to the city's water supply "was increased as a precaution" following the positive test.

The state and county delivered more than 130,000 bottles of water to the city over the weekend, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said on Monday.

E.coli, found in the intestines of people and animals, is a family of bacteria with both harmful and harmless strains, according to the state Department of Health. The harmful strains can release toxins that cause diarrhea or vomiting. The bacteria “may pose a special risk for infants, young children, elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems,” state health officials said.

Nassau County Health Department spokeswoman Mary Ellen Laurain said on Monday that the department did not have "a laboratory confirmed case of E. coli."

"In order to protect individual privacy we won’t comment publicly on any specific people or ongoing investigations," she added.

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