EPD: Water pollutant elevated

COVINGTON -- The Georgia Environmental Protection Division notified Newton County on Jan. 20 that a contaminant in the drinking water supply exceeds allowed levels.

An EPD spokesman said there is no immediate threat to the health of residents and the agency will continue to monitor the situation.

Routine quarterly monitoring of water in distribution pipelines indicated that levels of haloacetic acid exceeded maximum amounts established by the Environmental Protection Agency for the October through December quarter.

Haloacetic acid is a disinfection byproduct that occurs when chlorine used to disinfect water combines with naturally occurring organic materials. The maximum contaminant level for haloacetic acid is .060 milligrams per liter; levels recorded in Newton County averaged .062 milligrams per liter. The level was based on averages of four samples taken in different locations.

"This level is not real high, but we're not going to let it continue," said Kirk Chase, manager of the EPD's Drinking Water Program, East Unit.

The EPD is requiring that Newton County notify its more than 100,000 drinking water customers of the issue within 30 days. Letters will be going out in the next few days, said Karl Kelley, director of the Newton County Water Resources Department.

Kelley said all the utilities that purchase water from Newton County have been notified and are flushing water lines to address the issue.

"Water systems periodically flush the lines to prevent this; however, during the drought, flushing programs were reduced to conserve limited supplies," Kelley said in a printed press release. "In addition, water consumption across the county has decreased, as typically occurs during the rainy winter months. The economic downturn has also led customers to use less water as a means to reduce their water bill. All of this has resulted in the monitoring results that we are working closely with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to resolve."

In addition to flushing water lines, additional pre-treatment at the Cornish Creek Water Treatment Plant has been implemented to reduce organic compounds in the system, Kelley said.

According to the public notice, which includes standard language approved by the EPD, some people who drink water containing haloacetic acid in excess of the maximum contaminant level over many years experience problems with liver, kidneys, and the central nervous system and may have increased risk of getting cancer. However, "The violation does not pose a threat to the quality of water supplied. Residents should not be alarmed and do not need to seek alternative water supplies," the notice states.

Chase said this is the only violation issued to the Newton County Water System for at least the last five years.