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Tainted water still no cause for alarm

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Bacteria that causes diarrhea detected in Gresham's public water supply.

PHOTO COURTESY CDC - Cryptosporidium lives in the intestine of infected humans or animals.Reports of disease-causing microbacteria in East Multnomah County's water supply might trigger "the ew factor," but that's still no reason not to gulp.

The Portland Water Bureau found cryptosporidium — a microscopic parasite that causes a particularly nasty form of diarrhea — in at least six separate water samples this year, starting on Monday, Jan. 2. The latest detection occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 8.

The Bureau is required to notify the public of tainted samples, but officials say there's still no cause for alarm.

"The Portland Water Bureau is carefully tracking these results and working closely with our partners at the Multnomah County Health Department and Oregon Health Authority," Water Bureau Administrator Mike Stuhr said in a prepared statement. "While the health risk of these results is low, we take seriously our commitment to protecting public health."

Gresham's 110,000 residents should be aware, however, as they drink the same water as Portlanders on the east and west side. Officials warn that Gresham residents with severely weakened immune systems should contact their doctor about other sources of drinking water.

Crypto, as the disease is commonly called, can survive most chlorination treatments because of its hardy outer layer. Though it's the No. 1 cause of waterborne illnesses in the U.S., most people can defeat crypto without medical treatment.

Scientists say the Bull Run Reservoir contamination was triggered by crypto-infected animals pooping in the water supply.

Farther East

The slight risk of danger is even slighter farther east, because almost all residents of Troutdale, Wood Village and Fairview get their drinking water from wells, not the Bull Run storage reservoir on Powell Butte.

About 400 Fairview residents are the exception to the rule, drawing their water from Rockwood's utility district, which is fed by the Bull Run. Those affected customers live west of Fairview Parkway, between Interstate 84 and Glisan Street.

"We don't want people who live in Fairview in the Rockwood Water District to be fearful," explained City Manager Nolan Young. "We had residents who were expressing concerns, and we felt we should get information out to them."

Troutdale pumps water from six wells, which tap into aquifers about 400 to 600 feet below the surface. Wood Village also operates four drinking-water wells.

"Historically, we cannot find any evidence of a cryptosporidiosis outbreak tied to drinking Bull Run water," Multnomah County Health Officer Paul Lewis said in a press announcement. "The county's ongoing disease surveillance has shown no unexplained increase in cryptosporidium cases."

Prior to the current outbreak, crypto was last detected in Bull Run water in December 2011.