Neglected Water Towers Could Leave Bad Taste

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10 Investigates found some central Ohio water towers that have been neglected and have not been inspected or cleaned in years.

Rust, dirt and even dead animals were found inside some towers we inspected, 10 Investigates' Paul Aker reported.

Martha Eitel lives near Darbyville's water tower.  She said that she could not remember anyone ever inspecting the tank.

SLIDESHOW:  Images From Inside Water Towers  (Some images might be considered graphic) | 10TV VIDEO: Go Inside A Water Tower | 10 Investigates' Paul Aker Climbs A Tower

Video was taken inside Newark's water storage facility in the winter.  An inspection company used an underwater robotic camera to look.  In Hebron, rust and aquatic growth were spotted inside.

Over time, naturally occurring sediment in the water accumulates.  Other times, aging towers rust and flake.  The worst problems come from old or damaged vents that go directly into the tank.  They are needed to keep the tower working properly.  But when they are sealed, all types of things can get through.

"If the screen is compromised in any way, you can get birds that wind up dying and falling into the water," said Dave Gilligan of Dixon Engineering, a company that inspects water towers.

10 Investigates uncovered pictures of dead birds that apparently got through vents inside water towers in Fairfield and Washington counties. 

While the dead birds look bad, they are usually not a great health concern because bacteria-killing chlorine is in the water.  Still, people have suffered.  In March, people living in a Colorado town had to drink bottled water because of suspected contamination from a non-chlorinated tank.

In 1993, bird droppings in a Missouri tank killed seven people.

Even the best tanks contain stuff you would not want to drink, Aker reported.  To see it firsthand, he climbed inside one to take a look.

The tower he climbed in New Bremen was refurbished a couple years ago, so it was thought it might be one of the cleanest towers.  Once Aker got up to the roof of the tower, things looked fine.  Then, he went inside the water bowl.

The new tower looked relatively clear but by no means spotless, Aker reported.

A crew found sediment, rust and mineral deposits so thick that it took a power washer to clear it. 

Some tanks go uninspected for years, Aker reported.  Our investigation showed that neglected towers are a fairly uncommon problem.

According to state guidelines, towers should be internally inspected at least every five years.  Several inspections have gone longer.  A few of the inspections took much longer than five years.  After a 12-year wait, Hebron recently had an inspection.  Plain City went a decade in between inspections.

There is no record of any inspection in Darbyville, and Delaware has waited more than five years between inspections.

Lee Yoakum, a Delaware city spokesman, said that inspecting the water tower would have created a fire hazard during the few hours the water would have to be drained.

"If, during that time, there was a serious fire, we'd be in jeopardy of not being able to service any of the city of Delaware," Yoakum said.

With no law to require inspections, folks in places like Delaware and Darbyville will just have to keep wondering what's in their tower and their water.

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