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Health officials urge public to check large bottled water jugs for contamination

State public health officials are warning consumers to check 3- and 5-gallon bottles of water for gasoline odors after an Essex County child was sickened by contaminated water that came from a Poland Spring bottling plant in Framingham.

The child became ill Feb. 1, and tests revealed that the ­water, which had been delivered to the youth’s home in a 5-gallon bottle, contained a small amount of compounds including benzene that suggested gasoline contamination, the ­Department of Public Health said Thursday.

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The child, whom authorities did not identify, was treated and released at a local emergency room, the department said.

The department is urging consumers who have bought 3- and 5-gallon water bottles since Nov. 1 to check for odors before using the product after some people used empty bottles to transport gasoline during fuel shortages following Hurricane Sandy in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Poland Spring collects empty and used bottles from customers, said a spokeswoman for the parent company.

In a statement, Poland Spring said that customers have been advised not to use bottles to transport gasoline and that the sanitation process is extensive prior to reshipping.

“We supplemented our exist­ing bottle inspection processes and automated sniffer machine with a ‘human sniffer’ on each production line,” the statement said. “Each of our 3-gallon and 5-gallon bottles goes through a vigorous multi­barrier process to inspect, clean, and sanitize the bottles.

“When our delivery staff collects empty bottles in the field, they are screened visually. If there are obvious sources of contamination, suspect bottles are removed from the supply chain and destroyed.”

Bottles that pass the onsite inspections are reexamined in the factory by trained staff, the company said, and are then passed through the automated sniff machine.

“Bottles that pass all of these examinations are washed with hot detergent, sanitized with disinfectant, rinsed, then filled with water and capped,” the statement said.

The company said it is cooperating with state officials inves­tigating the matter.

The public health advisory is meant for 3- and 5-gallon ­bottles delivered by all companies.

According to the Health Depart­ment statement, “water companies have detected and blocked . . . an increased number of returned water bottles found to contain gasoline residue or fumes,” but “a very small number” are believed to have made it back into circulation.

If swallowed, benzene can irritate the mouth, esophagus, and stomach, causing nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, the Depart­ment of Public Health said.

Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
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