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Six schools in Rockford will remain closed Friday over E. coli contamination concerns

Around 2,500 students in the Rockford Public Schools district are home today because of E. coli bacteria in the city’s water system. Complications over the holiday weekend led to elevated levels of the bacteria that could be a risk to human health. A boil water advisory is in effect until further notice.

Rockford schools superintendent Mike Shibler says six schools on the Rockford water system will have to be closed tomorrow too for the safety of the students who attend.

“I’ve been the superintendent here. It’s the start of my 25th year, and I have not ever experienced something like this,” Shibler said, “So there’s always a first for everything, right?”

Public drinking fountains have been shut off.

“It’s more than just having enough bottled water,” Shibler said. He says it would be impossible to prepare food for that many students with a boil water advisory in effect.

The advisory will stay in effect until water testing comes back normal two days in a row. Once that happens, the state’s Department of Environmental Quality will review what went wrong with the system to try to prevent problems in the future.

Water tests taken on Tuesday came back positive for E. coli on Wednesday.

Amy Lachance is the district supervisor in Grand Rapids for MDEQ’s Community Water Supply Program. She says this case is “more severe” than a typical boil water advisory for two reasons;

  • multiple test results came back with positive results for contamination,
  • and the contamination was the E. coli bacteria.

E. coli contamination is usually associated with fecal material.
“These things do happen and it’s unfortunate, but everyone’s been working together to resolve the issue from my understanding,” Lachance said.

MDEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel says there’s been a handful of boil water advisories issued in communities this year across the state.

E. coli bacteria caused Traverse City to close down a public splash padfor most of the summer. E. coli levels usually close some beaches every summer too.

Michigan’s Department of Community Health only tracks human outbreaks. Those more commonly involve food contamination, a department spokesperson said. So far, there haven’t been reports of illness associated with this incident.

The Kent County Health Department issued a release to answer some frequently asked questionsearlier this afternoon.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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