Bottled water companies and distributors in Maryland struggled yesterday to meet a surge in demand caused by a Washington health advisory of possible contamination of municipal tap water.
The surge was so unexpected, some water company executives said they haven't been able to react adequately to the excess demand. But they don't expect shortages for their regular customers.
Bottled water distributors argue that they should have gotten advance notice of a Wednesday Environmental Protection Agency warning which urged Washington and Northern Virginia residents to drink only boiled tap water or bottled water.
"If they had just said, 'Look, there's a chance we might have to issue a warning for 2 million people,' we could have started getting stuff in line for that possibility," said John Lapides, president of Snow Valley Inc. The company bottles Pennsylvania spring water at a plant in Upper Marlboro. Mr. Lapides said his company has been bottling about twice as much water as normal for this time of year. He declined to cite specific figures, but the 50 workers at his plant have been working overtime.
"I'm getting dizzy. The phones haven't stopped ringing, and we got tractor-trailer trucks backed up here trying to load up," said Thomas Pignataro, founder of the Brick House Farm Spring Water Co. near Ellicott City.
Mr. Pignataro says that his bottling operation, which has just 10 full-time employees, has been operating day and night since the warning was issued.
Between yesterday and tomorrow, he expects to bottle and ship
100,000 gallons of spring water to fill orders in the Washington area -- about 10 times his usual output.
Yesterday, Brick House Farm was swamped with calls from large grocery chains, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and food distributors.
Among those Mr. Pignataro was able to accommodate was the Children's Hospital in Washington, which received about 5,000 gallons of his spring water.
Jane Lazgin, spokeswoman for Perrier Group of America, which owns the Deer Park Spring Water Co. in western Maryland, said Deer Park has been swamped.
"We are experiencing a tremendous request for water. But we're prioritizing who we'll ship to. Schools and hospitals are first on the list," said Ms. Lazgin.
Mr. Lapides said he, too, had decided to give top priority to hospitals, nursing homes, and schools.
"One thing is for sure, no bottled water company is going to get rich off this," said Mr. Lapides of Snow Valley. "But it's a community crisis and I think we're all trying to help out best we can."