Freeport residents told to not drink or touch tap water

The Freeport Fire Department is distributing bottled water to residents during a no contact advisory.

FREEPORT, Mich. (WOOD) — Residents in Freeport are being told not to touch their water as it is tested following a valve failure that caused chemicals and untreated water into the village’s system.

This all started around 6 p.m. Friday in the northern Barry County village when the Ketchum Machine Company warehouse on Oak Street had its second fire in the last year and a half.

The Freeport Rural Fire Department was still working on the stubborn fire just before 11 p.m. when a volunteer noticed a valve used to draw water was broken and was allowing backwash into the municipal water supply. That included the firefighting foam mixed with water.

“It’s really just a high concentrated detergent,” Freeport Fire Chief Jim Yarger said of the foam. “It’s soap, it’s soap.”

The valve failure also allowed water pulled from the Little Thornapple River to enter the water supply untreated.

“So, it’s the bugs in that they’re more worried about at this time,” Yarger said.

The discovery led to a quick meeting with the township leadership and calls to the county health department and the state. The outcome was a no contact order for all 180 customers of the city water system.

“It was decided this was the best route to go, better safe than sorry,” said Freeport Village President Bill Andrews.

This was around midnight when they decided to post it on the village Facebook page and website, but they also had to let residents know before they got up to take a shower. So village officials, volunteer firefighters and anyone available went door-to-door letting everyone know.”

“I grabbed the closest clothes I had, which was a bright pink fuzzy nightgown, my slippers and pajama pants,” Village Clerk Shawna Hill said. “At about 3:30, (a resident asked) ‘Do you always work this late?’ and I said ‘No, actually I don’t as you can tell, I was sleeping.’ And she said, ‘Your robe looks really comfy.’ And I said, ‘Thank you’ and I said,” Have a good night,’ and we walked away.”

Now the village is flushing the water lines and the county is sending water to the state DEQ for testing.

“They found a lab that will test them tomorrow, see where we’re at,” Yarger said Saturday. “Last we heard from the DEQ, we’re still under the no contact, bottled water only.”

About 100 residents have been in to get free water at the fire hall.

It’s important to note the water is not toxic, but it could be irritating — causing itching and intestinal distress.

Dealing with the lack of water that could last for a while. The best guess on the no contact order being lifted?

“Wednesday is optimistic,” Yarger said.

Everyone seems to be coping. Freeport residents Brad and Sueann Brownell say they have had to get creative, showering at the gym and using bottled water for everything at home.

“Showers and laundry will be the big thing,” Suann said.

The only restaurant in the village will have to stay closed as well.

“Saturdays and Sundays are my big days, so, yeah, it put a damper on it but that’s what we have insurance for,” said Darrell Smelker, owner of Smelk’s Diner. “We will bounce back.”

There was extensive damage to the warehouse, but the structure remains salvageable, the fire chief said

Village officials will keep residents updated on their Facebook page and their website.