published Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Town's water system citations unrelated to worms

OKLAHOMA CITY — The water provider in a northeastern Oklahoma town that's trying to rid its supply of tiny red worms failed to meet certain monitoring requirements in 2011 and 2012 — but state environmental officials say that's not the cause of the worms' appearance.

"Any of the violations this system has had prior to this event would not have been indicative of worms being present in the distribution system," Erin Hatfield, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said Thursday.

The Colcord water system failed to provide the required number of samples of its water to state inspectors in 2011 and 2012, the state Department of Environmental Quality said Thursday. The samples were needed for testing for coliform, which can indicate the system is vulnerable to pathogens.

DEQ inspectors continued Thursday trying to determine how the worms, also known as bloodworms because of their red color, got into the system, said DEQ water quality division assistant director Tim Ward.

"I'm not sure we'll ever know exactly how it happened," Ward said. "We'll just have to do an investigation and come up with possible reasons for how it occurred."

Ward said no breaches in the water lines that might allow the worms into the system have been found.

Residents in the town of about 815 near the Arkansas border, about 80 miles east of Tulsa, are advised not to drink the water, use it in food preparation or brush their teeth with it.

Colcord Public Schools, which closed earlier this week due to the water advisory, will remain closed until at least Tuesday. A Monday closure was already planned for Labor Day.

The worms are common in Oklahoma, despite initial reports that it is unusual to find them in the state, said Oklahoma State University entomologist Rick Grantham.

"They're very common in Oklahoma. Wherever you have water in Oklahoma, you have bloodworms. It's a very, very close relative to a mosquito, but they don't bite," Grantham said.

They are, however, no threat to human health.

"If you ate these, nothing is going to happen to you," Grantham said.

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