- Associated Press - Monday, April 3, 2017

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - State and local officials say steps that the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority took to reduce levels of two chemicals found in its water last year have made the water safe to drink.

Not all of the water system’s customers agree with that assessment.

Water treated in a carbon filtration system installed by the authority last fall has shown enough of a reduction of the chemicals in the water that created a health scare last year that the state has scaled back the required testing schedule for the authority.

Water samples taken weekly in October and then monthly in November, December and January found a nearly undetectable presence of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfanate), according to officials.

“Really, nothing even close” to the limits, said Don Sims, the authority’s general manager.

Asked if the system’s water is safe to drink, John Guarisco, the state toxicologist with the state Health Department, replied: “Oh, yeah. The latest data I saw, it didn’t show a problem. It wasn’t even detectable.”

The EPA issued a health advisory to the authority last year that prompted Sims to announce in late May that its customers should not drink or cook with the water.

But Andrea Simpson, of Courtland, isn’t convinced the authority’s water is safe to drink now, and she would like to see further research by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

“I started filtering my water,” she said. “I’m contemplating a complete filtering system for my entire house, but it’s expensive.”

The reduction of the chemicals, which were once used in the manufacturing of products with non-stick and water-resistant surfaces, allows the authority to submit sample test results to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management quarterly starting in May.

A water system that was the object of a federal health advisory, when the combined levels of PFOA and PFOS reached 110 parts per trillion in its water, now finds as few as 10 parts per trillion and no more than 31 parts per trillion of the chemicals combined in its last four tests. The combined limit is 70 parts per trillion for long-term exposure to the chemicals.

“We’re happy with the way it’s worked and will continue with the monitoring schedule,” said Ed Poolos, chief of the Decatur branch of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s Field Operations Division.

The authority blended its water with water from Decatur Utilities for a short period to reduce the PFOA and PFOS levels to within the federal guidelines. It then installed a $4 million temporary carbon filtration system to keep the levels within the guidelines.

The first samples taken in the weeks after the system went online Oct. 1 found undetectable levels of the two chemicals, Sims said. Test samples that show less than 20 parts per trillion of PFOA and 40 parts per trillion of PFOS are officially listed as undetectable and do not have to be reported to the EPA or ADEM, Sims said.

“It was so minute that they couldn’t get a test on it,” he said.

Water customer Jan Hawkins of Danville said she uses the authority’s water to wash vegetables or for boiling, but turns to bottled water to drink.

“I have a whole lot more confidence with the carbon filtration system in,” she said. “I’ll have more confidence when they put in the reverse osmosis system.”

Sims and Poolos credit the temporary carbon filtration system with making the water safe to drink again.

“The carbon is doing what it’s supposed to do,” Sims said.

“They have done everything we’ve asked,” Poolos said. “That system has worked very well.”

The carbon filtration system consists of six tractor-trailer size canisters filled with carbon from coal or coconut shell, Sims said. The system can process 12 million gallons of water at one time, which is enough to meet the authority’s daily demand of 5 million to 7 million gallons.

Water has to be in contact with the carbon at least 15 minutes to reduce the chemicals, but the authority keeps contact for 30 minutes or more, Sims said.

The carbon costs $600,000 and could last from two to six years before being replaced, Sims said.

The temporary carbon filtration system will be replaced by a permanent system that will use reverse osmosis to remove the chemicals. The permanent system will cost an estimated $25 million, Sims said.

“It will remove anything from the water,” Sims said. “It can make salt water drinkable.”

The authority borrowed the money to build the carbon system. Sims said the loan will be repaid with a $5 million lawsuit settlement payment from Daikin America. The settlement agreement is awaiting a federal judge’s approval.

West Morgan-East Lawrence filed a federal lawsuit last year against Daikin, 3M and 3M subsidiary Dyneon, accusing the companies of allowing PFOA and PFOS into the Tennessee River and eventually into the authority’s drinking water.

The outcome of the case with 3M and Dyneon will be critical to the authority’s ability to build the permanent filtration system, Sims said.

“We won’t be able to do that until we get a settlement with 3M and Dyneon,” Sims said.

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, https://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml


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