Don’t drink the water

Don’t drink the water were the words heard by residents served by West Morgan East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority Thur., June 9. General Manager Don Sims announced that the authority’s board had approved his recommendation to tell all of the system’s customers not to drink or cook with the water provided by West Morgan-East Lawrence.

Sims was basing this on an advisory that had been sent to the authority by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From a sample taken on Dec. 29 levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluoroctane sulfonate (PFOS) in the sample caused the authority to receive a health advisory requiring them to notify their customers of possible health risks from the two chemicals found in the water produced by WMEL.

These chemicals were used in the production of non-stick coatings on cookware, fabric protectors, stain repellents and fire-fighting foam. Manufacturing plants along the Tennessee River used the chemicals in their processes over the past years.

The EPA recommends that water systems that exceed 70 parts per trillion do something to lower the levels in the water being sent out to customers. It is thought that long term harmful effects can occur when the levels are above the recommended level.

EPA says that pregnant women, women who are breast-feeding and infants who take formula mixed with tap water, are more susceptible to health impacts from the chemicals in the water supply.

The water authority supplies water to over 100,000 customers in Morgan and Lawrence Counties. The authority serves communities in Morgan County including Falkville, Danville, Massey, Neel, Trinity, Punkin Center and Mud Tavern.

The Town of Falkville buys their water from Hartselle Utilities and West Morgan East Lawrence. After receiving notice from WMEL on Thursday, town leaders decided to stop purchasing water from WMEL and purchase all of the town’s water from Hartselle. The town’s water customers were advised not to drink or cook with the water until Fri., June 3, after the lines had been flushed. The water customers were told the water was safe to use again by noon on Friday.

In order to calm the fears of it’s customers, Hartselle Utilities released this statement Friday afternoon:

The safety and wellness of Hartselle Utilities’ water customers is of the upmost importance.  In light of recent events, we want to ensure our customers that we take the quality of our drinking water very seriously.  We have and will continue to conduct all appropriate measures to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water to our customers.

Hartselle Utilities is NOT one of the systems listed among those in our area where tests have shown concentrations of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or Perfluorooctyl Sulfonate (PFOS) to be present at or above EPA’s final health advisory level.  To view the press release from ADEM regarding the final health advisory for PFOA and PFOS and the systems impacted, go to www.hartselleutilities.org.

Testing of Hartselle Utilities water supply is conducted at the direction of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency.  Testing for PFOA and PFOS were conducted as part of EPA’s Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 3, in which our results show that no unsafe levels of these chemicals are present in Hartselle Utilities water supply.  No advisories about the safety of the water in our distribution system are in effect at this time, nor are any expected.

Hartselle Utilities water supply comes from Decatur Utilities.  In a public notice posted by Decatur Utilities regarding their water system, they confirm “in all tests there was no detectable, or zero, levels of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or Perfluorooctyl Sulfonate (PFOS) present.”

As part of their standard annual practice, a copy of the Water Quality report will also be included in customers’ June utility bills.

If you have any concerns or questions regarding Hartselle Utilities water supply, please call (256) 773-3340.

In response to the call to not drink the water, by WMEL, Morgan County leaders held a press conference addressing the issues Friday afternoon, June 3.  Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long, Decatur Mayor Don Kyle and Emergency Management Director, Eddie Hicks addressed those in attendance.

Long said all need to work together as a team. He said no one from WMEL called to let the leaders of Morgan or Lawrence County to let them know about the announcement to not drink the water. “The board acted irresponsibly in not notifying the leadership,” Long said during the press conference.

Long was not happy with the panic that was caused and mentioned that he had let two of the WMEL board members know how he felt.

Hicks mentioned if they had been notified of the announcement prior to the “don’t drink the water,” bottled water could have been available to those who affected by the water situation.

Local stores reported cases of bottle water flying off the shelves as water customers sought safe drinking water.

Referring to the fact that the higher levels of PFOA and PFOS were thought to come from long term exposure, all leaders present at the press conference, including Kyle and Long, said they would be fine drinking the water coming from WMEL.

Hicks had plans to have available water set up at volunteer fire departments in the affected areas as soon as Mon., June 6.

Trinity is no longer buying the town’s water from WMEL but has switched to Decatur Utilities as their source of drinking water.

Governor Robert Bentley even got in on the controversy releasing a statement saying:

“Based on my current understanding, I am confident that there is no health-related crisis based on the water quality of the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority,” Governor Robert Bentley said. “I believe every citizen should have safe water to drink. I have been following the situation concerning the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority very closely. After consultation with the State Health Officer, Dr. Tom Miller, and the Director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Lance LeFleur, it is apparent that a local decision was made which effectively turned an advisory into a regulation. My office, along with ADPH and ADEM, were not aware that this decision was being contemplated prior to it being announced.”

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