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After almost a year of trying to fix the problem, it appears the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District has lowered the level of a contaminate in the county’s drinking water.
The area’s drinking water has had a higher than normal level of trihalomethanes since last year. Trihalomethanes are created when chlorine mixes with organic material, such as decaying leaves and algae, in the water pulled from the Catawba River, where Lancaster gets its water supply.
Due to higher water temperatures in the summer, trihalomethanes are often at higher levels, because warm water aids in the chemical reaction between the chlorine and organic material in the water.
The amount of trihalomethanes allowed is .080 of a microgram per liter.
For the latest sampling, done Aug. 6, that number was .076 of a microgram per liter, said Mike Bailes, director of the Catawba River Water Plant.
“However, we are still not satisfied with this number and want to get it lower,” Bailes said Monday. “We are very encouraged by the outcome of our treatment changes thus far, but continue to work on lowering these numbers as much as we can.”
Consent order issued
The plant is under a consent order from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Plant officials have set up a corrective action plan with DHEC and must set target dates for when and how the plant will improve its treatment process.
The state agency has not sent its order in writing to Bailes yet, and he doesn’t know yet if the plant will be cited and fined.
The plant fixed the trihalomethanes problem by dropping the pH of the raw water coming into the plant before it’s treated. But this is a short-term fix, and Bailes said with a capital project slated for this year, the plant’s numbers should continue to improve.
The plant was due for an upgrade this year, due to growth in both Lancaster and Union County, N.C., which also gets its water from the plant, Bailes said. The treatment capacity of the plant will increase to 54 million gallons.
“It’s about growth,” Bailes said. “We’re taking the opportunity to move forward with new technology.”
Bailes doesn’t know yet how much the upgrades will cost. The cost will be shared between Lancaster and Union counties.
Bailes noted that for sampling done for January through March, the trihalomethanes level was in compliance. It was out of compliance for the next quarter, however, and due to higher than normal levels last year, the plant’s annual running average was also out of compliance.
It’s difficult to treat a problem like this, because one corrective measure could cause corrosion at the plant, or result in a higher level of copper in the water, for example.
“It’s a balancing act,” Bailes said. “That’s why it takes so long to get it fixed.”
People who drink water containing excessive trihalomethanes over many years may experience liver, kidney or central nervous system and have an increased risk of cancer.
Lancaster County residents have expressed concerns over the past several months about the water, after receiving notices of the violation in their water bills.
Residents of the Mountain Ridge neighborhood, off River Road in Indian Land, often wonder what’s in their water. Several say the water leaves a black ring in their toilets daily.
“It stinks and it tastes bad,” said Rebecca Reeves, who drinks bottled water.
Robert Attaway, 75, was the first to buy a lot in Mountain Ridge in 1989, when water and gas lines were installed in the area.
He wonders what’s in his water.
“I don’t put a clear glass of water on the counter at night and drink it the next morning,” Attaway said. “It’ll make me sick. Looks kind of oily.
“I’ve called the water department several times and they assure me that they’re doing everything they can to clear up the water and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with our water,” Attaway said.
The water department has never tested his water.
Anyone with questions about the violation may call Bailes at (803) 286-5949.
Contact senior reporter Jenny Hartley at 283-1151