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Local Facilities Coping With Boil-Water Advisory

- Hospital, Kane have contingency plans
- School responses vary

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
October 14, 2019
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News, White Oak News

Local schools and public facilities in areas affected by a boil-water advisory reported Monday they were finding ways to cope.

But the advisory left some businesses in the area --- mainly restaurants --- unable to open.

The failure of an intake pump that pulls water from the Youghiogheny River forced the shutdown on Saturday night of Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County's McKeesport Water Treatment Plant.

The pump was rebuilt and put back into service on Sunday afternoon, but not before many customers in the city, Port Vue, Versailles and White Oak reported no water, or very low water pressure.

According to state health officials, loss of pressure can cause contaminated water to be sucked into a water system. On Saturday night, the water authority imposed a boil-water advisory for McKeesport and Versailles, which was extended early Sunday morning to Port Vue and White Oak.

The advisory means that before tap water is used for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, making ice or brushing teeth, it should be boiled for one minute and then allowed to cool; or else bottled water should be used.

McKeesport Area School District had classes in session at all buildings and bottled water and jugs were available for students, said Kristen James, district spokeswoman.

Nutrition Inc., the district's provider for breakfasts and lunches, was operational as well and had a contingency plan in place, she said. As for water fountains in the district's six buildings, "they were all covered" to remind students and staff not to use them, James said.

Students at Propel School McKeesport were off Monday for the Columbus Day holiday, said Sonya Toler, spokeswoman, and although staff members had to report for a professional development day, they were working at a different location, she said.

On Tuesday, Toler said, Propel is planning to provide bottled water for all students and staff in McKeesport. Meals are prepared off-site and brought to the Versailles Avenue location, so food service wasn't a problem, she said: "We don't have a kitchen at that school."

Serra Catholic High School cancelled classes at its Haler Heights campus on Monday, though students were asked to work on lessons and assignments remotely using their Internet connections.

A spokeswoman said the school was planning to hold classes as usual on Tuesday, but students were asked to bring drinking water from home.

Afterschool activities remained in session Monday unless cancelled by a coach or moderator, she said.

A spokesperson for South Allegheny School District said all of the buildings, including the elementary school in Port Vue, are served by Pennsylvania American Water Co. and were not affected by the boil-water advisory. Classes were in session as usual on Monday at South Allegheny.

Operations continued as usual at UPMC McKeesport hospital, said Rick Pietzak, senior manager of public relations.

"UPMC McKeesport is following the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County boil water advisory," he said. "As part of our contingency plan for this type of situation, water supplies, including bottled water, are being distributed to patients and staff. UPMC McKeesport remains operational and there is no impact on patient care."

Pietzak said no one was available for an interview and he did not respond to emailed follow-up questions.

At Kane Community Living Center, the county's 360-bed skilled nursing and senior living facility on Ninth Avenue, Dennis Biondo, executive director of the four Kane centers said "a situation such as the water advisory in McKeesport is covered by our emergency preparedness plan."

"We always have bottled water on-site at each of our centers sufficient for our needs for several days and we have the ability to obtain additional water as needed," he said.  "Operations are minimally affected with no issues that would affect or compromise resident care."

Water tankers were put in place at three locations in the city --- the hospital, Walnut Street at 12th Avenue, and lower 10th Ward --- as well as in Versailles, Port Vue and White Oak, although some residents reported finding them empty, or out for refills, at certain times of day on Sunday and Monday.

In addition, cases of bottled water were distributed by the water authority at the city's No. 2 fire station in Renziehausen Park, and at the White Oak municipal building, but supplies were limited to one case per car, and quickly ran out, firefighters said.

Although some restaurants opened for business as usual, others were closed or had limited items.

Da Vinci's Pizzeria on Washington Boulevard in Port Vue, for instance, reported being low on a sufficient quantity of pizza dough. The difficulty, an employee said on Facebook, was getting boiled water to cool fast enough to make the dough.

Rita's Italian Ice on Long Run Road in White Oak was closed Monday due to the advisory. Puzzlers' Restaurant & Lounge in Christy Park was closed Sunday, but reopened Monday.

The water authority said the advisory may be lifted Tuesday afternoon if two consecutive tests of the water, taken 24 hours apart, show no signs of contamination.

Jason Togyer is the editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published October 14, 2019.

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