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Jackson, Miss., under boil-water advisory after positive tests for E. coli

National Guard members hand out cases of bottled water to residences of Jackson, Miss., in 2022 after a mechanical failure at Jackson's main water treatment facility left the region without usable water for several weeks. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
National Guard members hand out cases of bottled water to residences of Jackson, Miss., in 2022 after a mechanical failure at Jackson's main water treatment facility left the region without usable water for several weeks. File Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Public health authorities issued a boil-water advisory in Mississippi's capital city and surrounding areas after water test samples came back positive for E. coli.

The alert -- which calls for water to be "boiled vigorously for 1 minute before it is consumed" -- affected 169,000 residents who live in the capital region, including Jackson, Byram and Flowood, while the local water manager cast doubt on the findings by the Mississippi State Department of Health.

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Ted Henifin, head of Jackson's interim water manager JXN Water, said it was extraordinary that E. coli had been found in two water systems, while noting that chlorine in the water treatment process should have easily eliminated all traces of the bacteria.

"Having positive results from any system ... is fairly unusual. Having two positives from two different water systems on the same day, analyzed at the same time seems highly suspect," Henifin said.

In response, the state health agency issued a statement supporting its test results, saying lab officials "do not believe there was any contamination of the samples while in the lab and the results are not false positives."

Henifin revealed that he asked for a follow-up water test, but the Department of Health declined.

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"Over the last 12 months since we've been doing this, we've turned in almost 1,500 samples to the lab and there have been no positives, no false positives, no problems at all," Henifin said. "It's something that really caught us off-guard and got our attention quickly."

The boil-water advisory is expected to remain in effect until two consecutive days of clear testing is achieved.

State officials planned to notify water system officials once the advisory is lifted.

JXN Water is mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency to collect monthly water samples at 120 locations across Jackson to check for bacteria. According to Henifin, the water system has consistently met all requirements in the past year, with no test failures.

The situation marked the most recent fallout in Jackson's persistent troubles with water management, especially in disadvantaged communities.

Jackson residents have long endured water supply issues, as demonstrated in 2022 when a mechanical failure at Jackson's main water treatment facility left the region without usable water for several weeks.

Last June, Jackson received a federal lifeline in its water crisis with the Environmental Protection Agency promising $115 million to support critical water infrastructure.

The funds were provided through the 2023 federal budget in money Congress set aside for infrastructure.

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Meanwhile, some school districts in Jackson were shuttered Friday in anticipation of a cold front that was expected to bring extreme weather to the area.

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