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Rust turns Cambridge water brown

By Judy Kim

A broken water hydrant gate on the corner of Quincy Street and Broadway caused much of the water in Cambridge, including all of the water flowing into MIT, to appear unusually brown on Saturday.

According to Water Quality Supervisor Ed Dowling of the Cambridge Water Department, the brown color was due to the presence of "suspended iron manganese oxide," or ordinary pipe rust, in the city's water pipes.

Dowling said the brown water was the product of iron pipes that are over 100 years old. He described the process as a natural one called "tuberculation, a process in which rusted material slowly begins to line the pipes over some time." Ingestion of the rust should not be harmful to health, he added.

Dowling explained that any disruption of the water pressure inside the pipes, such as shutting the water off and then on again, causes the rusted material to slough off the pipes and into the water.

Although the pipe valve that broke on Saturday was part of a 6-inch pipe, repairing it "required doing work on the 30-inch water main" on Broadway, Cambridge Water Department officials said.

This resulted in closing off some pipes and rerouting the water through other pipes, which led to the change in water pressure that caused the rusted material to enter the water.

Such action was necessary since "controlling the broken hydrant gate required cutting in an insertion valve," Water Department officials said. The city hopes to complete the repairs within the next few days.

Students uneasy with brown

water, despite assurances

Dowling said that Cambridge residents should not be worried about the quality of the brown water. He described the iron suspension as "inert particles that pass right through the body." He said that the rusted material "will eventually work itself off" as residents continue to run water though their pipes.

MIT student Alan E. Freedman `94 said that "I really don't like drinking brown water." Although the brown water appeared "only periodically," he wished they "would have done something about it sooner." Freedman said he felt uncomfortable using the water.

David S. Warren `94 understood the brown water was not a serious health threat, but added, "I didn't like drinking it or brushing my teeth with it, but I realize that under the circumstances, nothing else could be done."