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Lack of critical device leads to 'Do Not Drink' order for thousands of Mainers

No backflow prevention device is what led to firefighter foam in the Kennebec Water District supply, according to general manager Roger Crouse.

WATERVILLE, Maine — As crews battled a deadly fire at Waterville's Elm Towers Monday morning, the lack of a backflow prevention device in the building resulted in firefighter foam getting into the Kennebec Water District's water distribution supply, according to the utility company's general manager, Roger Crouse.

Thousands of Mainers are under a "Do Not Drink" order after Kennebec Water District customers reported foam coming out of their faucets. The water district told NEWS CENTER Maine it serves about 9,000 customers, totaling about 20,000 people. 

"There should have been a backflow prevention device installed [at Elm Towers]," Crouse told NEWS CENTER Maine. "There was not one. When that pressure came from the firetruck to inject the foam and water into the [building's] system, some of that water and foam overcame the water system pressure and went out into the distribution system."

Under the Kennebec Water District's terms and conditions, Elm Towers is required to have the backflow prevention device on the firefighter service side, Crouse said. 

It's unclear what the health impacts are if the foam is ingested, but Crouse recommended calling poison control or contacting a doctor if customers started to feel unwell after they drank their water. 

"If you've not experienced foam, you probably haven't been impacted, but out of an abundance of caution, we've issued this 'Do Not Drink' order," Crouse explained. 

Another "Do Not Drink: order was issued Monday night for all 1,050 Maine Water customers in Oakland, which gets its water supply from the Kennebec Water District, according to Maine Water communications director Dan Meaney.

"We were able to isolate our water system from Kennebec Water District earlier in the day,' Meaney explained. "At nine o'clock tonight, there is a water storage tank that we will need to fill, in order to maintain pressure in the water system, and that is when there's the possibility if there were to be water affected by this issue that it would be introduced into the Oakland systems." 

The "Do Not Drink" order is expected to last until at least Wednesday afternoon when water test results are expected to come back. 

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