By Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - A north Alabama utility warned thousands of its customers Thursday not to drink their tap water because of contamination from chemicals possibly linked to health problems in children.

Officials from the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority held a news conference about potentially hazardous levels of two chemicals in Tennessee River water after the Environmental Protection Agency recently issued an advisory about the chemicals.

Authority general manager Don Sims said the system’s 10,000 customers shouldn’t drink or cook with tap water since it contains the substances.

“I would rather be over-cautious than under-cautious,” Sims said. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a chemist, but when they tell one class of people the water is not safe, I don’t want to be the one to say, ‘You drink it and you don’t.’ So I said, ‘Nobody drink it.’”

Officials said they plan to build a temporary filtering system that should be complete in the fall, but a permanent one won’t be operational for several years.

Tests have found perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate in the system’s water. The authority filed a federal lawsuit last year blaming contamination on companies including 3M, which has a plant in Decatur, but the corporation has said there is no proof of any harm and called federal advisories about the chemicals overly conservative.

An EPA fact sheet said the chemicals, commonly known as PFOA and PFOS, have been used to make fabrics, packaging and coatings for cookware. Studies indicate that exposure to PFOA and PFOS above certain levels may result in problems including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, cancer, liver damage and immune-system effects, according to the agency.

Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and infants who consume formula mixed with tap water are particularly susceptible to the chemicals, EPA said.

The EPA said water systems with combined levels of 70 parts per trillion of the chemicals in drinking water should advise customers of the potential health risks and take steps to reduce the chemicals. The most recent tests of West Morgan-East Lawrence’s water found levels almost 60 percent higher than the EPA limit.

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