How much is your safety worth?

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In an age where information is available lightning fast at the touch of a button, any communication short of that draws the ire of the general public.

Such is the case over in Murfreesboro where town officials have fallen under fire for allegedly not notifying their citizens in an expedient manner following a problem with the town’s drinking water.

No one representing Murfreesboro’s governmental hierarchy contacted me to help fend off those questioning their actions. I’m writing this on my own accord…no threats, no barrel of a pistol aimed in my direction.

This is what I do know. Sometimes around 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4, my wife called me (I was, of course, still at work) to let me know she had read on FaceBook that Murfreesboro had a potential problem with its water.

Curious, I contacted Murfreesboro Town Administrator Lee Capps by cell phone. At the time, Lee was eating supper at a Murfreesboro restaurant. He confirmed a situation, informing me that the issue was unclear at that time, adding that additional tests on the water system would hopefully shed more light on the possible problem.

I took that info and wrote a short article, advising of a possible issue with the Murfreesboro water, and immediately posted it on our website ( before 9 p.m. on Nov. 4.

Friday morning, the information on our website was updated to include that a “boil water advisory” was in place in Murfreesboro. Capps, erring on the side of caution, said he would rather be safe than sorry concerning this ongoing issue. Later that day, I was contacted by the Hertford County Public Health Authority, confirming the problem and that they would pull all operating permits of Murfreesboro eateries on Friday afternoon.

Additional tests revealed the town’s water system was tainted by fecal coliform bacteria. That prompted the county’s Health Authority to swing into action using N.C. General Statue 130A-2 (3) which deals with an immediate threat of serious adverse health effects if no immediate action is taken.

All of that info, as well as the news of the shut down of the Murfreesboro eateries, was posted on our website before 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 5. The same info was in our Saturday, Nov. 6 print edition. Follow-up articles (telling of the end of the boil water advisory and re-opening of Murfreesboro eateries) were on our website on Monday evening, Nov. 8 and in our Tuesday, Nov. 9 print edition.

Meanwhile, Murfreesboro officials had all that same information printed out and began the process of delivering it, house-by-house, to those connected to the town’s water system. I’ve heard that some received that info on Friday; others on Saturday.

Whatever the case, Murfreesboro water customers were, by state law, notified within the allotted time frame….some in less than one day; others within 24 hours of the problem being identified.

I have yet to hear if the bacteria in the water caused any mild to severe health problems. The water may have been tainted prior to the Nov. 4 discovery (tests are performed on a weekly basis).

We are all dependent on clean and safe drinking water, whether that comes from a public source, a private well or bottled by a manufacturer. If we are a customer of a public water system, we put our trust in those testing that water and letting us know as quickly as possible if there is a problem. That was the case in Murfreesboro as they took immediate action to notify its water customers.

Is there a quicker way…sure there is, but it will come with a cost; example would be the CodeRed system installed by Northampton County where officials there can contact its citizens by telephone in case of an emergency. That system costs $10,000 annually to operate.

To anyone, not just Murfreesboro residents, how much is your safety worth?

Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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