Blood Worms Invade Oklahoma Town’s Water Supply

bloodwormsThere’s something in the water — and it isn’t an ice cube. Residents of one small Oklahoma town are being ordered to sip exclusively bottled water, after tiny red blood worms started popping up in drinking glasses earlier this week.

The outbreak in Colcord, OK, has all but shut down the community, home to around 800 people. Schools are closed, convenience stores can’t serve fountain sodas, and residents have been instructed not to cook or brush their teeth using tap water. Bathing, fortunately, is still deemed acceptable by local health authorities.

The discovery of blood worms in a small Oklahoma town’s water supply has forced a “do not drink” order as well as a school closure through Labor Day.

“Right now there’s still a precautionary water use advisory, so still encouraging people not to use the water for anything except bathing, not to use it for food preparation, brushing teeth, drinking,” Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) spokeswoman Erin Hatfield told today.

The blood worms, also known as red worms, were discovered earlier this week in the filtering system of Colcord, Okla., population 800, about 80 miles east of Tulsa.

The worms range from a half-inch to an inch long and have no known health effects, according to Hatfield.

“They weren’t coming out of people’s faucets,” Hatfield said. “They were found in the distribution system, originally at a convenience store that was having their filters serviced. And they were found in the filter.”

“The chlorine won’t kill them, the bleach won’t kill them. You can take the worms out of the filter system and put them in a straight cup of bleach and leave them in there for about four hours, and they still won’t die,” Cody Gibby, Colcord water commissioner and vice mayor, told ABC’s Arkansas affiliate KHBS-TV.

The Cherokee Nation donated cases of bottled water to Colcord Schools and the town’s emergency management office has been distributing water to residents including Rachel Miller and her family.

“It’s crazy. My kids are out of school. We have no water. We can’t even cook with it, so it’s pretty bad,” Miller told KHBS-TV. “When you go without water, you kind of miss the simple things [like] being able to go and turn your faucet on.”

“The DEQ will be onsite sometime this week to inspect the facility and try to ascertain how this may have happened and hopefully to find a way to prevent it from happening again,” Hatfield said.

Hatfield said the situation is “very unusual” for Oklahoma and believes the only other case was 20 or 30 years ago. She said the worms are more common in the Southeast part of the U.S.

Blood worms — actually the larvae of the midge fly — are typically small, maxing out at around half-an-inch in length. They’re known to pop up in the southeastern United States, though not often in municipal water supplies, and are also sold freeze-dried as fish food. Blood worms tend to thrive in low-oxygen or heavily polluted water, where they burrow inside mud. And unfortunately for officials in Colcord, the buggers are also extremely resilient.

The health risks associated with ingesting blood worms are unknown, though they aren’t believed to cause adverse effects. But local authorities in Colcord aren’t taking any chances — while they try to figure out how the worms infiltrated water supplies in the first place, they’re also distributing pallets of bottled water to residents.