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Journal nuwayser's Journal: Isabel, McDonalds and Boil Orders

Late in the evening of Thursday, September 18, 2003, while Hurricane Isabel was ripping through Northern Virginia, the Fairfax County Water Authority water treatment plants lost power. All of them. Water reserves ran dry relatively soon after that, and I understand that there is literally a giant sucking sound that takes place when the system is underpressured. Air is sucked back through faucets and the like, and so bacteria can get into the piping system and *could* make its way back to some part of the supply.

(If you've ever seen Blue Man Group, this was the part of the show where they say, "The system has become INTERACTIVE.")

Although power to the treatment plants was restored by 4:30 the following afternoon, customers of the FCWA have been under a mandatory boil order. Any water to be used for drinking, washing, making ice or other instances where pollutants could be ingested or absorbed by the body must be brought to a rolling boil for 1-3 minutes.

The next day my wife and I took the kids to the McDonalds on Van Dorn Street in Alexandria City. We had been cooped up for a second day and thought it would be a quick way to get out of the house. None of us thought about the water issue as relates to restaurants and the like --- it's just one of those things we take for granted (until times like this). Turns out Alexandria City buys their water from FCWA.

Anyway so we eat there and then it occurs to my wife to ask the store manager if they're boiling their water first, you know, to make ice cubes. Nope. They're taking it right out of the tap. In fact, the manager misunderstood my wife's question at first and OFFERED HER A GLASS OF TAP WATER. When my wife corrected her, she rudely responded that they were doing nothing about it.

(At the time, the water coming out of our home taps was yellowish and had little "critters" coming out of it. We've been boiling it, cooling it and then running it through a Brita filter.)

On the other hand, I visited the Border's bookstore in Bailey's Crossroads the next day. They had signs on the doors saying that their cafe was closed because of the boil order. Later, while I was there, they made an announcement saying they would open the cafe but would only sell pre-packaged food, bottled drinks, and things like that.

Granted, Border's main biz is books, not fast food, but STILL!!!!!

I wonder how many things McDonalds uses tap water for. The carbonated water for the soda fountain is pre-packaged... I think... but ice? water for the shakes? water for the non-carbonated drinks, like Hi-C? soft ice cream?

We're complaining to McDonalds. Clearly these guys know that there are plenty of people without power or clean water, and they're taking of advantage of a disastrous event to up their sales without taking responsibility for the healthiness of their food.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly