DHEC takes blame for slow notice in notifying water customers of issue

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By Jenny Hartley

INDIAN LAND – Panhandle residents, mostly from the Sun City and Black Horse Run neighborhoods, questioned local and state officials about their water quality during a meeting sponsored by the Indian Land Action Council on Wednesday.

Officials from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control admitted DHEC was at fault in a delay in notifying local water customers about a water violation earlier this year.

It was a combination of factors that led to the delay in notifying Lancaster County Water and Sewer District customers about a higher than normal level of trihalomethanes, including equipment failure and staff turnover.

"They (Lancaster County Water and Sewer) didn't have as much info as they needed to start reacting," said Doug Kinard of DHEC. "Again, we do apologize for that."

Lancaster County Water and Sewer has been working the last year to lower the trihalomethanes in the water it treats from the Catawba River.

Trihalomethanes, a byproduct of the water treatment process, have been higher than allowed by federal standards in samples taken from the county for the past year. Trihalomethanes are created when chlorine mixes with organic material, such as decaying leaves and algae, from the water pulled from the Catawba River, where the county gets its water supply.

August water samples showed that the level was back in compliance, and samples for September showed that the level had dropped by 47 percent, said Mike Bailes, director of the utility's Catawba River Water Treatment Plant.

The local water utility is under a DHEC consent order to develop an action plan by certain deadlines to find a long-term solution for the problem. Lancaster County Water and Sewer will face penalties if it doesn't meet deadlines.

Water and sewer customers will still get a public notice in their bills next month, because the running yearly average, which dates back to this time last year, is still too high.

Bailes, who lives in Lancaster County, said he does not filter his water at home.

"I wouldn't let my grandkids drink it if I didn't think it was safe," he said.

But if people do feel the need for an extra level of protection, they can invest in a charcoal filter for their water faucet.

One woman in the crowd who lives in Sun City Carolina Lakes said she has to clean her toilets every day or a black ring will form in the bowl.

She asked Lancaster County Water and Sewer why it doesn;t go to a reverse-osmosis treatment system, which her former home had. She said she is afraid to bathe in the water.

"Reverse osmosis would solve the problem," Kinard said. But it would cost $200 million to install the system.

The woman and a man with her soon got up after muttering that the people on the panel were "idiots." They noisily left the Indian Land Elementary School cafeteria.

Meta Wasson, a Black Horse Run resident who sent water samples from her home to a Charlotte laboratory for testing, asked how long it would take for samples to be tested from now on. Kinard said it would be a two-week turnaround.

"I can live with that," Wasson said.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151