HEFLIN — Edwardsville is working to rid its water system of the second carcinogenic contaminant it has found in its water this year.
In February, Edwardsville Water and Fire Protection Authority’s drinking water tested higher than maximum allowed levels for haloacetic acids — .009 milligram per liter beyondthan the .06 maximum allowed. In May, said Larry Thompson, the water authority’s operator, the water tested higher than allowed in trihalomethanes, although he didn’t have those figures immediately available.
The authority sent out a notice to customers this spring about the first finding. The notice included a warning that people who drink water containing the two compounds “over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have increased risk of getting cancer.”
But Thompson said the water is safe to drink.
The levels are slightly higher than the EPA allows and the exposure would have to continue for years to become dangerous, he said.
“If it should become a problem or become a lot higher, something else would have to be done,” Thompson said. “We’re still a long way from that.”
But at least one Edwardsville water customer is alarmed by the contaminants in his drinking water.
“I don’t want to come down with cancer from drinking this crappy water,” said Major Marler, who has lived in his home in Edwardsville for 18 years.
Marler would like the Cleburne County Water Authority to take over the Edwardsville authority. The Cleburne County authority and Heflin Water Works and Sewer Board’s annual reports both show no higher than the allowed levels of any of the contaminants state and federal regulatory agencies require the systems to test for.
The city of Heflin Water Works and Sewer Board sells water to Edwardsville. Thompson said Heflin treats the water; Edwardsville filters and stores it.
The chlorine can settle in the system over time and when it mixes with naturally occurring organic material in the water it produces the contaminants, he said. In March the system began flushing its water lines and repainting its water tank to get rid of any chlorine that may have settled there. It will continue to work until both contaminant levels are down, Thompson said.
The nation’s water authorities are required by federal law to provide water quality reports to its customers each year, said Rodney Owens, general manager of Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board. But the reports can be confusing, he said. The reports contain a lot of unfamiliar terms.
“We’re mandated by the law to make it as readable and as understandable as we can,” Owens said.
To help make them more understandable, Anniston and the other local authorities provide definitions for the abbreviations used in the report, as well as examples to make the terms understandable, he said.
In Heflin’s report for instance, it defines ppm, parts per million, saying it “corresponds to one minute in two years or a single penny in $10,000.”
The Anniston authority receives very few calls about the report after it is released, Owens said.
“Most of the calls are related issues, like water hardness,” Owens said.
Chris Patterson, water and wastewater plant manager for Jacksonville Water Works, Gas and Sewer Board, said Jacksonville doesn’t have much problem with chlorination by-products because it uses groundwater.
“Surface water has the organics in it,” Patterson said, referring to the particles that react with chlorine.
He said that some of the systems in the state having problems with the by-products have experimented with filtration systems to decrease organics in the water before it reaches the chlorine.
In Europe, Thompson said, water is treated through means other than chlorine.
“The United States is about the only one that still uses chlorine,” Thompson said.
Cost is the issue, he said. Chlorine is cheap. Updating systems with new technology is expensive.
It would cost the Edwardsville system about $25 million to build new water lines and a filtration plant. That cost would have to be spread on the system’s 200 customers, he said.
The system’s long-term plan to build a new 100,000-gallon water tank would cost about $200,000, but even that is out of reach without loans and grants, Thompson said.