Washington Ozaukee Health Department: E.Coli found in a hydration station at Erin Hills

Wells were regualrly tested prior to tournament
E.Coli found in the water supply at Erin Hills
Posted at 1:11 PM, Jun 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-16 19:38:00-04

Thursday was a turbulent day at the 117th U.S. Open at Erin Hills.

After an advertising blimp, not affiliated with the competition, caught fire and crashed in a field near the course, the Washington Ozaukee Health Department said it has found E. coli in one of the five hydration stations set up for fans and volunteers throughout the course.

The stations tapped directly into the well water supply at Erin Hills. The water was filtered and chilled before being dispensed.

Kirsten Johnson, Director/Health Officer at the Washington Ozaukee Health Department, said the wells at Erin Hills were being regularly tested all month in anticipation of the U.S. Open.

"Monday we tested them and everything was clean," Johnson said. "Wednesday morning we tested them again and got the results back - preliminarily - yesterday morning that there was E. coli in one of the wells."

She said further tests have since confirmed the presence of E. coli, as well as showed coliform, or fecal matter, in the same well.

Johnson said that well, and all those connecting to it, have been shut off. She speculated the contamination likely came from the soil.

"I also think, with the amount of rainfall we've gotten, that the natural process of the soil filtering the water wasn't able to be as effective," Johnson said.

So far, there are no confirmed cases of illnesses due to the contamination.

"We're hopeful we caught it in time," Johnson said.

On Friday morning, the infrastructure at the hydration stations was replaced with water coolers.

The USGA ordered more than 430 plastic jugs of water, to start with, that are being dispensed through the coolers. Fans are still encouraged to bring their own empty, plastic water containers for refilling as long as the bottles are no larger than 24 ounces.

The USGA issued the following statement about the contaminationt:

"The Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department notified the USGA that it identified evidence of E. coli bacteria from a sample from one hydration station near the 12th hole at Erin Hills golf course, site of the U.S. Open Championship.

The water line to the hydration station was disconnected immediately, and bottled water was provided to guests while we waited for the preliminary results to be confirmed by the Public Health Department.

The safety and security of our guests is of paramount importance to the USGA. Out of an abundance of caution, we will offer all guests complimentary bottled water at all four hydration stations throughout the duration of the championship."

Fans on Friday morning said they were happy there was still water available.

"We're going to be out here in the heat walking pretty much all day," said Jarrod Stokes, of Waukesha.

"It's supposed to be pretty humid today," said Pat Helwig.

Amy Oberholtzer, who was watching the U.S. Open for the second time this week on Friday, said the thought of the E. coli was a bit scary.

"I think it's unfortunate," she said. "I'm feeling OK. But when I heard about it, I thought, 'What if I'm sick and I don't know? Did I drink from the station at hole number 12?'"

The contaminated well will be tested again following the conclusion of the tournament, Johnson said. 

As of Friday evening, the problem well was completely cut off for the remainder of the tournament. The Washington-Ozaukee Health Department believes no one was affected.

"The USGA has done a wonderful job that there's clean water on the course," said Kirsten Johnson, director health officer for Washington-Ozaukee Health Department . "They've ensured there is bottled water on the course. We are pretty confident we caught it in time.

During the day on Friday, a 94-year-old man died on the course. The Washington County Sheriff says he died of natural causes and Johnson feels confident E. coli was not a factor. She says, effects from E. coli tend to show after 72 hours.