Belling­ham drink­ing wa­ter shows rise in con­tam­i­nants

Re­cent tests on town’s wa­ter sup­ply show in­creased lev­els of chem­i­cals; not an im­me­di­ate health risk

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By JOSEPH FITZGER­ALD jfitzger­ald@woonsock­et­call.com

BELLING­HAM – The town's wa­ter vi­o­lated a drink­ing wa­ter stan­dard set by the U.S. En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and con­tains a higher-than-al­lowed level of a con­tam­i­nant called To­tal Tri­halomethanes, or TTHMs, which are dis­in­fec­tion byprod­ucts that oc­cur when chlo­rine in­ter­acts with or­ganic mat­ter in the wa­ter.

The tri­halomethanes lev­els do not pose an im­me­di­ate health risk for drink­ing wa­ter cus­tomers, town offi- cials say. But ac­cord­ing to the EPA, peo­ple who con­sume ex­cess amounts of tri­halomethanes over many years can de­velop health prob­lems, in­clud­ing an in­creased risk of cancer.

“This is not an im­me­di­ate risk. If it had been, you would have been no­ti­fied right away,” the town's de­part­ment of public works said in a state­ment on the town's web page. “How­ever, preg­nant women, in­fants, and women of child­bear­ing age may be at in­creased risk and should seek ad­vice from their health care providers if they have any con- cerns.”

Ac­cord­ing to DPW Di­rec­tor Don­ald DiMartino, the town is re­quired to mon­i­tor the drink­ing wa­ter for TTHM lev­els on a quar­terly ba­sis (once ev­ery three months) at four spe­cific lo­ca­tions in the distri­bu­tion sys­tem. The re­sults of this quar­ter’s sam­pling, which were re­ceived on Nov. 16, show that the sys­tem ex­ceeds the stan­dard or max­i­mum con­tam­i­nant level for TTHMs at three out of four lo­ca­tions in the north­ern part of town.

The stan­dard for TTHMs is 80 parts per bil­lion. The sam­pling con- ducted by the town showed TTHMs lev­els at 85 parts per bil­lion at 79 Hartford Av­enue; 90 parts per bil­lion at 342 Hartford Av­enue; and 88 parts per bil­lion at 115 North Main St.

The fourth sam­ple at 20 Cran­berry Meadow showed TTHMs lev­els well be­low the stan­dard at only 30 parts per bil­lion.

DiMartino says TTHMs lev­els can vary de­pend­ing on a num­ber of factors in­clud­ing the amount of chlo­rine used, amount of or­ganic material in wa­ter sources, tem­per­a­ture, wa­ter use, wa­ter stor­age, and sea­son of the year. Con­trol of TTHMs lev­els must be main­tained while also ap­ply­ing ap­pro­pri­ate lev­els of dis­in­fec­tant in the wa­ter nec­es­sary to treat the wa­ter for con­tam­i­nants and avoid bac­te­rial is­sues.

“The town is work­ing with the Mas­sachusetts De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion on eval­u­at­ing op­er­a­tions, wa­ter qual­ity and treat­ment plant per­for­mance with the in­ten­tion of de­vel­op­ing a cor­rec­tive ac­tion plan to cor­rect this is­sue,” said DiMartino, adding res­i­dents will be no­ti­fied ev­ery three months

un­til the public wa­ter sys­tem is in com­pli­ance with the TTHMs stan­dard.

DiMartino says a dis­in­fec­tion byprod­uct rule vi­o­la­tion is com­pletely new to the Belling­ham De­part­ment of Public Works.

“We have been pre­form­ing rou­tine quar­terly test­ing for dis­in­fec­tion byprod­ucts since 2011. We have ex­pe­ri­ence slightly el­e­vated re­sults on a few oc­ca­sions, but never at lev­els that trig­gered con­cern of a vi­o­la­tion, un­til this sum­mer,” he said. “As we are very in­ex­pe­ri­enced at ad­dress­ing this prob­lem, we will be lean­ing heav­ily on MassDEP and the pro­fes­sional en­gi­neers at Wright Pierce, our wa­ter treat­ment con­sul­tants, to help us re­solve this mat­ter.”

DiMartino says an ac­tion plan has yet to be drafted, but a meet­ing with MassDEP and Wright Pierce is sched­uled to be held Dec. 10 to be­gin that process.

“We ex­pe­ri­enced el­e­vated TTHMs num­bers dur­ing our rou­tine sam­ple col­lec­tion in Au­gust 2017, and while it is not un­usual to have el­e­vated num­bers in Au­gust due to higher wa­ter tem­per­a­tures, these were higher than typ­i­cal sum­mer read­ings,” DiMartino said. “The el­e­vated read­ings did not trig­ger a vi­o­la­tion; there­fore, no notices were sent. How­ever, we were re­quired to com­plete an op­er­a­tion eval­u­a­tion report.”

DiMartino said the de­part­ment was “sur­prised” to see el­e­vated re­sults again in Novem­ber.

“In the past only the sum­mer time sam­ple showed el­e­vated re­sults,” he said. “This is an in­di­ca­tion that there may be some changes in the or­ganic material in our raw wa­ter.”

DiMartino said two things be­came clear when com­pil­ing the op­er­a­tion eval­u­a­tion report. The first is that sam­ple col­lec­tion lo­ca­tions and pro­ce­dures need to be im­proved, and sec­ond, the de­part­ment has very lit­tle data to help de­ter­mine what if any­thing has changed in raw wa­ter qual­ity.

“To re­solve the first item we have started to in­stall sam­pling sta­tions which will al­low us to col­lect sam­ples that are a bet­ter in­di­ca­tion of the wa­ter in our distri­bu­tion sys­tem,” DiMartino said. “All dis­in­fec­tion byprod­uct sam- pling lo­ca­tions that yielded high read­ings had very long ser­vice lines. These cus­tomer’s taps are dif­fi­cult to ac­cess and likely to yield sam­ples that are not representative of the wa­ter in the distri­bu­tion sys­tem. DPW sam­pling staff has also been briefed on the de­tail sam­pling pro­ce­dure.”

The DPW has also ex­panded its sam­ple col­lec­tion and mon­i­tor­ing beyond ba­sic re­quire­ments to hope­fully build a us­able data­base to an­a­lyze the cause of the is­sue, he said.

“The DPW staff has be­gun to per­form some raw wa­ter sam­pling and we have col­lected sam­ples for anal­y­sis by state cer­ti­fied lab that we hope will give us a bet­ter in­di­ca­tion of the or­ganic material in our raw wa­ter,” DiMartino said.

DiMartino says the age of the wa­ter in the sys­tem can cause el­e­vated dis­in­fec­tant byprod­uct re­sults.

“We have con­tracted with an engi­neer­ing firm to run a wa­ter sys­tem hy­draulic model anal­y­sis that will give us an in­di­ca­tion as to where wa­ter is not cy­cling through the wa­ter sys­tem,” he said. “The wa­ter age model should be com­pleted be­fore the end of De­cem­ber. The study should help us un­der­stand what is needed to keep wa­ter in the distri­bu­tion sys­tem fresh and prop­erly dis­in­fected.”

The Hartford Av­enue plant was con­structed with ca­pa­bil­i­ties to ad­dress el­e­vated or­ganic material in raw wa­ter, there­fore, the town should have op­tions within the treat­ment plants ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the plant to ad­dress the is­sue, DiMartino said.

“We can­not stop chlo­ri­na­tion of the wa­ter sys­tem; that would risk bac­te­rial con­tam­i­na­tion,” he said. “But we can and do plan to make any mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the treat­ment process and distri­bu­tion sys­tem nec­es­sary to get us back to com­pli­ance.”

The town re­mains the pri­mary con­tact for all ques­tions re­gard­ing the public wa­ter sys­tem. Any ques­tions con­cern­ing sam­ple re­sults, sta­tus of projects, or public no­tice in­quires should be di­rected to DiMartino at (508) 966-5816.

Res­i­dents who have health ques­tions about ex­po­sure to TTHMs in drink­ing wa­ter you can con­tact the en­vi­ron­men­tal toxicology pro­gram at the Mas­sachusetts De­part­ment of Public Health at (617) 624-5757).

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