I know that as you age it is considered common to have issues with your urinary tract or prostate. Mister E and I however seem fated to have problems with a different kind of plumbing. The central heating has been a headache on occasions with a blocked radiator and more recently a screw through a pipe.  We currently have an issue with the heads on the Retirement Project too. However all this pales into insignificance when compared to events of the past 3 weeks.

I've moved from a state of shocked paralysis, through panic to waking up in the night attempting to logically solve the problem at 3.30am (it never works and just leads to continuing insomnia). If I ever thought I'd left the world of stress behind me the day I retired, I could not have been proved further wrong. Hot sweaty palms, a fast beating heart and bouts of sudden nausea have all made their inevitable appearance.

It started a few days after we returned from our Baltic trip (and believe me, I could now do with another vacation) when we both noticed a strange odour and taste to our drinking water. To begin with we assumed it was just one of those fluctuations in quality you get from the local water authority. Unfortunately the problem persisted and by the time I was definitely smelling and imbibing an oily flavour, decided it was time to call the water supplier.

Give the company its due, their representatives arrived within a couple of hours. They took various samples from our kitchen tap which is fed directly from the supply pipe and having decided in their own minds that either we or one of our neighbours must have suffered a spill from the kerosene tank supplying a boiler, issued a Do Not Drink Notice pending testing of the specimens taken. At least they had the foresight to also despatch a flat bed truck laden down with water bottles which, 21 days later, we are still drinking.

Four days afterwards we were informed that whilst our neighbours' properties were clear, the analysis of the samples together with the taste and odour already detected, were evidence of the fact that our water supply pipe had been contaminated by kerosene. We were immediately served with a statutory notice requiring us to replace the pipe within 21 days! 

I think that's when I really began to feel affected. Whilst the thought of a reservoir of black gold beneath your property might  have hands rubbing with glee in Dallas, here in North Yorkshire it brought on night sweats that the menopause has failed to evoke. Excavating through a home's solid floors, underpinning the foundations and pumping out oil is not for the faint hearted even when their insurance policy promises hotel accommodation for as long as it takes.

Obviously before taking steps to comply with that notice we needed to identify the source of the spill and site of the contamination. I suppose it was never going to be an easy task when apart from the strange scent of the liquid coming from the taps there is absolutely no evidence of any loss of heating oil from either our own or any of our neighbours' tanks. After all with the price of oil the way it has been over the past year, a spill or leak are not something you would expect to go entirely unnnoticed.

We involved our insurers immediately who arranged for a contamination expert to visit us the next day. He took more samples, made bore holes, used (for want of a better description) a "sniff" meter and left scratching his head. Meanwhile and at our insistence the Water Authority returned to take more samples, this time from the tap closest to where the water pipe enters our home as well as at the boundary where it joins the public water main.

A week later we had heard nothing further as to the result of the sampling but after pressing received copies of the analyses undertaken for the Water Authority. All samples were clear except for one of the two taken initially from our kitchen tap and it appears that all the erroneous one was throwing up was the detection of one particular aromatic hydrocarbon, Xylene, that at best is a very minor inhabitant of kerosene and even then, and we could hardly believe it, at a level of 0.2 parts per billion in our drinking water. It was hardly proof of the Exxon Valdez rocking up in our back garden.

In the meantime the contamination expert had our oil pipe pressure tested to prove that it is not leaking and the results of his own samples failed to show any evidence for kerosene in our water. Well that's given the boffins at the Water Authority something to think about. So much so that they want to know how much white spirit or paint thinners we might have spilled recently. Yep it turns out that Xylene haunts those liquids too, but no we are not in the habit of spilling things, least of all in a quantity that they would leach through our solid concrete floors and make their way into the water supply pipe below.

Anyway and in desperation they have taken more samples. Turns out one of them has given a positive result (just 0.1 parts per billion this time) so, but at least it has given us a laugh, they have scraped paint applied a decade ago to the outside of an internal pipe and pushed that in a sample bottle to send to the laboratory too. 

One day we assume they will accept that the hydrocarbon uncovered derives from something perfectly natural in the water they are supplying us with. We've checked and in the USA, for instance, Xylene is monitored to ensure it doesn't exceed 0.5 parts per billion and only if it is consistently above this level must steps be taken to reduce it, whilst it is only if it reaches 10 parts per million that alternative drinking water supplies must be provided. Also as the human olefactory system can neither taste nor smell Xylene until it is present at least a hundredfold more than detected in our tap water, Xylene alone is not the cause of our problem and may well prove to  be just a red herring rather than a serious indicator of the cause.

Meanwhile the bad smell and taste linger and we are gradually getting through the supply of bottled water. The Statutory Notice to replace expires on Friday, our insurance covers us only if there is a leak from an oil installation and my blood pressure is going through the roof.



Treaders said…
Oh my word I'm so sorry. I think I'd just curl up in a ball and cry - but then of course you can only do that for so long as you have to get on with it don't you!!!!! Right now I've got two guys on my roof replacing my chimney and the "triangular tiles" that top the roof which I reckon got dislodged in the storm we had a couple of weeks ago. Not something I had planned on but ....! Time to put the big girl's knickers on for me!
Caree Risover said…
Ah yes, I considered the curl up in a ball phase a couple of weeks back but as you say it never solves the problem. Sorry about your roof tiles but you are right, you just have to get on and sort, however stressful.
Jean said…
Good grief, what a palaver and an awful situation. I'm not surprised your blood pressure is high!
I hope you get some answers soon.
Marksgran said…
That sounds quite horrific. We once had a horrid smell in our house and could not find the source of it. We never did. Eventually it went away again but like you I was demented for weeks while we tried everything to find out what it was. Might I suggest though you install a water filter for drinking water? We got a Pozzani one many years ago and it removes all particles etc from your water and you can really taste the difference. We get an email once a year to remind us to change it but we usually only change it every two years as we feel yearly is a bit excessive. Its easy to install under your sink and recently when we redid our kitchen we bought a three way tap which includes a tap for the filter water. Previously we had a small separate tap for it. I hope you get it sorted soon fingers crossed. Good luck x
Caree Risover said…
Thanks for your comments Jean and Marksgran. There are now a multitude of things we want to do with our plumbing and heating system, including a charcoal filter (although our water always used to taste very good) and a full flush out but until the cause is established and/or we know if we are actually replacing the supply pipe are having to hold our horses which only adds to the frustration.

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