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Update on Drinking Water 1-9-2018
As is standard procedure for any violation of drinking water standards, the MassDEP has issued a Notice of Non-Compliance (NON) under the Disinfectant By Product (DBP) Rule.  The NON requires that we take actions to correct this issue and MassDEP is working with us to do so.

Our response to the violation and NON to date is as follows:

  • We met with MassDEP and Wright Pierce on December 11th.  We discussed options and received input regarding what other water suppliers that have experienced similar violations have done to resolve the issues.
  • We collected a full series of water quality samples on December 19th.  
  • We sampled for DBPs at Test DBP sites which are locations near the “Compliance Sites”. (This is allowed by MassDEP as investigatory sampling not used in calculating compliance).  
  • We sampled for Total Organic Carbon and Dissolved Organic Carbon (TOC/DOC) at all active sources.  Organic material in the water combined with chlorine used in the treatment process generates DBPs.
The TOC/DOC results did not identify an obvious problem, but are valuable as they will help us build the data needed to analyze our current issue and hopefully avoid future violations once we come back into compliance.

  • We have contracted with Wright Pierce (WP) engineers.  They will analyze our existing records and study our treatment processes and procedures.  This effort will get underway in earnest this week.  WP will follow up with recommendation to help us draft an action plan intended to resolve the problem.  
  • We have contracted with BETA Group, Inc. to run a water system model to study the age of water in our system.  The study will be analyzed by WP to help determine if there are any water distribution system modifications that can help to resolve the issue.   The study should be completed this week for deliver to WP.
That is where we are right now.  By the middle of February we hope to be preparing an action plan with the recommended steps to resolve the issue.

Below is a summary of the information noted in the news item “Important Information About Your Drinking Water”.  This is a significantly abbreviated summary.   If you want more information please read the news item “Important Information About Your Drinking Water”

It is important to reiterate that this is not an emergency.  Boiling your water is not necessary.
We are dealing with our first ever incident of Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) levels that are above drinking water standards.  (Standards for all drinking water contaminant levels are set by the US EPA and Mass Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP.)

We have been testing for TTHM every quarter since 2011.  We started the TTHM testing when other water quality standards required that we start disinfecting the water to protect our system against bacterial contamination.  
Chlorine used in water disinfection and treatment is a key element in the generation of TTHM.  TTHM forms when chlorine used reacts with naturally occurring organic material that is found in source water.  There are other factors that can contribute to elevated TTHM levels including: the water temperature, seasonal changes in source water quality, and the age of the water in the distribution system (stagnation).

This is a “drinking” concern.  It is not an issue for bathing, washing dishes, cooking, washing clothing, or other non-consumption water uses.

If you have any concern we suggest you drink bottled water or drink water that has been filtered (more on filtering later).  If you have concerns about past exposure we recommend you contact your health care professional.
TTHM’s are colorless, and will evaporate out of the water into the air.  Therefore logically, TTHM levels will drop over time if placed in an open container, but if you have concerned about exposure the recommendation is to drink bottled or filtered water.  It is the best means to reduce exposure.  

Water filtering options are plentiful and most are effective.  The filters must be carbon based to remove TTHM; a dirt and rust filter will not do the job.  With any filter or filtering system they are only effective if operated and maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Pitcher filters are usually the cheapest option; they treat your drinking water only and will improve taste and odor (removing the chlorine smell).   Second in cost would be an end of faucet system and under the sink filters.  These treat drinking water, but also treat dish washing, hand washing, and cooking water and generally cost more.
A whole house filter is costly and likely needs a plumber to install.  They function well, but treat all water entering the house.  We only drink about 1% of that water that enters our house.  (If you drink the “recommended” 8 glasses of water a day and use the Bellingham typical average of 56 gallons per day.  You would be maintaining a filter that is treating 99.10% of water that is not ingested.)

No one at the DPW is an expert on the health effects of TTHM or best filtering devises.  The above information is a brief summary of the five page question and answer sheet prepared by the MassDEP.  It provides a wealth of knowledge and links to other information.  Please read the MassDEP information sheet if you have any concerns or plan to make any purchase of a costly water filtering system.

Unfortunately, we can’t simply throw a switch to resolve this issue.  Nothing has yet to appear as the clear cause; therefore, we have yet to finalize a solution.   

All DPW staff, our consultants, and MassDEP staff members are working together diligently to resolve the problem.

When there is more to report we will post additional information.