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Westgate WaterBeing TestedWater Was Shut Off After Odor Noticed

By Benjamin P. Gleitzman

Residents of Westgate might be spending some time at the Holiday Inn this spring break — but not for vacation. Low rise units A-E, approximately 30 apartments, underwent water shutdown Wednesday afternoon, said John P. Heiney G, a Westgate resident who does not live in the affected area.

John G. Engle, program manager of the MIT Facilities Department, said that the decision to do the shutdown was made after residents reported “the distinct odor of oil” in the drinking water. All hot and cold water was disconnected after one resident said water was foul-smelling and discolored, and another filed a follow-up complaint sometime between last Friday and Tuesday morning, he said.

Water was turned back on 2 p.m. yesterday. Those who chose to temporarily move to the Somerville Holiday Inn after initial shutdown were allowed to remain yesterday evening, and Engle says he expects bottled water delivery to Westgate to continue through the weekend.

“It’s been two interesting days,” said Engle, who described the water as having a “petrochemical odor and discoloration.” As of yesterday, it was unknown what caused the murkiness or what contaminants might be in the water.

The shutdown, issued by the Cambridge Water Department as a precaution in response to the reports of contaminated water, affected half of Westgate’s residents, including small children and pregnant women. About 25 families chose to be relocated to the Holiday Inn in Somerville, Heiney said.

“Because of the construction there have been periodic water shutoffs and we would always get brown yucky water just after the water had been down,” said Heiney.

MIT officials will meet with the CWD today to determine which apartments have experienced contamination and reach a decision as to what further actions should be taken, said Engle.

“Cambridge has taken samples and [MIT] has taken samples from an independent lab,” said Engle, “but we won’t know … until the samples come back. The timeline yesterday was much different than it is today, and our first priority is the health and safety, and then the comfort, of the residents.”

The water problem comes amid an ongoing Westgate sprinkler replacement project to transfer all sprinkler systems off domestic lines and onto the MIT sprinkler system. “There is a low chance that the sprinkler pipes caused the problem,” said Engle, “but when sprinkler pipes have water in them for a long period of time they begin to disintegrate and oils from the pipe threading can seep into the water.” Samples were taken to determine if fingerprints left by chemicals being used in the sprinkler system matched those found in the drinking water. Work on the sprinkler system was suspended Tuesday night.