Fearing Contamination, Idaho Town Told Not to Drink Water

Residents of an Idaho town have been told not to drink its well water amid concerns that a fired municipal worker who killed himself in his home may have contaminated it, officials said Friday.

Tom Young, 62, was found dead Thursday by emergency workers who were sent to a hospital after entering his residence in Dietrich.

Lincoln County Sheriff Rene Rodriguez said Friday that Young’s death has been ruled a suicide and the cause is asphyxiation by nitrogen gas released into the home from a tank.

The gas is also blamed for sickening seven emergency workers, including Rodriguez, who was among those transported to hospitals. One other person was taken to a hospital. All were later released.

“For a couple of our guys it was sudden onset, and for me and a couple others it was delayed reaction,” said Rodriguez, noting he was still experiencing headaches.

Fired from city job

Young was fired May 9 from his city post following an altercation at City Hall that involved police, Dietrich Mayor Don Heiken said, declining to elaborate on the incident.

Court records say Young had been charged with felony robbery and misdemeanor counts of battery and intentional destruction of property. He pleaded not guilty and posted a $600 bond.

“When I talked to him after this altercation at City Hall, he said, ‘Well, I guess I don’t have a job,’” Heiken said. “And I said, ‘No you don’t.’ And that’s kind of how that happened.”

Heiken said there’s concern Young contaminated the well that serves the community of 300 people. However, he noted that it was unclear if Young would have had access to city property because he turned in his keys the day he was fired.

Tests clean so far

Mike Brown of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality said Friday that the first set of water tests found no contamination, the Idaho Statesman reported.

“We surveyed the system and saw nothing out of the ordinary and no evidence of tampering,” he said earlier in the day.

He said Young had a large amount of fertilizer in his home and the tests will determine if there is fertilizer or other substances in the water used by residents.

Brown said nitrogen by itself wouldn’t harm the city’s drinking water.

Results of the other tests are expected Saturday.

Young had been scheduled to appear in court on the day he was found dead.