Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hagerstown Water Contaminated with High Trihalomethanes Levels prior to 2015

Photo by Alex Anlicker
HAGERSTOWN, MD - With recent media attention to Flint, Michigan and Crystal City, Texas, local residents may be wondering if their own drinking water is safe.

The Safe Water Drinking Act requires public utilities to distribute on a yearly basis a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) listing the results for EPA regulated and unregulated contaminants.

According to the 2014 consumer confidence report, the City of Hagerstown found a level of 98 ppb Trihalomethanes, which exceeds the EPA requirements of 80 ppb. The report states:
Currently, the City of Hagerstown is operating under a consent agreement with the State of Maryland while it undergoes significant upgrades to the R.C. Willson Water Treatment Plant. Some people who drink water containing haloacetic acids or trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.
The City of Hagerstown provides water to Williamsport, Smithsburg, and Funkstown.

The 2015 CCR report was not available at the time of writing this article, nor was any data on how long the consent agreement has been in place. However, documents reaching as far back as 1980 show Hagerstown with a traditionally high concentration of trihalomethanes (THMs). The Herald-Mail wrote an article about the City's water in 2001, in which it was recommended that pregnant women only drink bottled water. Additionally, test data between 2004 and 2007 shows repeated high levels of THMs.

According to the World Health Organization, THMs are formed in drinking-water primarily as a result of chlorination of organic matter present naturally in raw water supplies. THMs include Chloroform, Bromoform, Dibromochloromethane, and Bromodichloromethane. Chloroform is a known carcinogen, while Bromodichloromethane is known to cause reproductive effects, including stillbirth.

Interestingly enough, the City of Hagerstown has posted a notice on its website that in August 2015, water treatment processes were to switch from chlorine to chloramines "in order to comply with new federal regulatory standards." The notice states that Kidney Dialysis Patients, Businesses using water for food or beverage manufacturing, commercial laundering operations, laboratory procedures, seafood handling or any other processes, or Fish, Pond, and Amphibian Owners, should take special precautions and steps for dealing with the chloramines in the water supply.

Residents interested in learning more should contact the Hagerstown Utilities Department.

Ken Buckler is the editor of the WashCo Chronicle.