WASHINGTON — Residents of Washington and nearby Virginia suburbs can resume drinking water straight from the tap, the Environmental Protection Agency said Saturday after tests showed water samples to be free of harmful microbes.
The EPA had imposed a warning Wednesday, telling people to boil their water because of concern that it may have been contaminated with the parasite cryptosporidium. This is the same microorganism found last spring in Milwaukee's water, causing thousands of people to become ill.
No incidents of water-related illness were reported in the Washington area, officials said.
"We feel confident the water is good to drink," Stanley Laskowski, the EPA's acting regional administrator, said at a news conference. He then drank a glass of tap water and declared: "I feel great."
Washington area public health officials, however, said some precautions still should be taken, including running the tap for at least three minutes to flush water that may have been standing in pipes since Wednesday.
They also urged users of ice-making machines to run several cycles of ice before using it.
The water alert affected about a million residents of the nation's capital and three suburban counties in Virginia and Maryland, as well as thousands of commuters and tourists.
During the four days of the alert, worried residents swamped grocery and convenience stores, seeking scarce bottled water.
The White House was unaffected, however, because it has a separate water filtration system.
EPA officials said they imposed the boiling order as a precaution after water at the Dalecarlia Water Treatment Plant, which takes water from the Potomac River, was found to be excessively cloudy.
Laskowski said the conditions mimicked those found in Milwaukee's water last spring and "we thought that we ought to be safe rather than be sorry."
But he said two series of tests on water samples taken on consecutive days found no harmful organisms.
Officials said they had ordered procedural changes at the Dalecarlia treatment plant, which is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, as a result of the water contamination scare.