2017-08-09 / Featured / Front Page

Report: County drinking water doesn’t meet ‘advisable health levels’

County says group’s research is flawed

A Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit is warning of contaminants in Chesterfield’s water supply that it says are above advisable health levels.

The contaminants are included in the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database, which shows the results of tests conducted by water utilities from 2010 to 2015. According to the nonprofit, the Chesterfield County Central Water System has higher than advised levels of bromodichloromethane, chlorate, chloroform, hexavalent chromium, dibromochloromethane and total trihalomethanes, or TTHMs. The latter is a grouping of cancer-causing contaminants that includes chloroform, bromodichloromethane and dibromochloromethane.

David Andrews, senior scientist at EWG, says these contaminants have the potential to harm early childhood development during pregnancy, cause increased instances of bladder cancer, and harm the thyroid. He adds that Chesterfield’s contaminants are likely the result of agricultural and urban runoff interacting with chlorine put into water to kill microbial contamination.

“For these six contaminants, the majority are disinfection byproducts,” Andrews says. “These are really unintended chemicals, but also a reflection of contamination of the source water.”

While higher than the guidelines EWG recommends, none of the contaminant levels violates state or federal law. EWG’s guidelines are based primarily on standards developed by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Andrews says that the Safe Drinking Water Act – the federal law that regulates drinking water – is overdue to add new contaminants to the more than 90 it currently regulates. Chlorate, one of Chesterfield’s contaminants, is an example of something Andrews says should be regulated. Chesterfield’s water has 484.6 parts per billion of chlorate, more than double both EWG’s guideline of 210 ppb and the state average of 223.5.

“It really blocks or hinders the thyroid’s [intake] of iodine, which is critical for thyroid function and hormone regulation,” Andrews says. “It currently does not have a legal limit. It seems to be a candidate for regulation.”

George Hayes, director of utilities for Chesterfield County, disagrees with the findings of EWG’s report.

“Chesterfield is in full compliance with all state and federal drinking water standards,” Hayes says via email. “We are extremely proud of the quality of water we provide and our spotless record of never exceeding a Safe Drinking Water Act primary maximum contaminant level (MCL), an achievement held by only a handful of utilities across the nation.”

Hayes says his staff initially identified at least five errors in the report, and is critical of the inclusion of contaminant standards that haven’t been adopted by the EPA or the state.

“Our water quality staff has performed a cursory review of the data on the EWG site, and there are significant errors in the data,” Hayes says. “One error indicates that we exceeded a Safe Drinking Water Act MCL, which is false. Last October when EWG issued another report, there were at least 19 significant errors in the Chesterfield data alone.”

EWG counters that the errors the county references were pulled from information on the state database, and are the fault of either the water system or the laboratory that did the testing. As of press time, the nonprofit has updated some of the data online.

In response to the report, an EPA spokeswoman sent a statement reading that America’s drinking water is the safest in the world.

“Citizens who are concerned about their drinking water and who are served by a public water system can contact their local water supplier and ask for information on contaminants in their drinking water,” writes an EPA spokesperson via email. “They are also encouraged to request a copy of their Consumer Confidence Report.”

The Chesterfield County Central Water System isn’t the only source of water for county residents. The Appomattox River Water Authority and City of Richmond are supplemental water suppliers for Chesterfield. Those water sources also have contaminants, with Richmond’s level of chlorate at 765 ppb, more than three times EWG’s health guidelines.

Though Andrews warns of the risks of contaminants, he says Chesterfield is “middle of the road” when it comes to the health of its water, and that these tests are supposed to represent a snapshot of the day the water was sampled.

“You will see variation over the course of the year,” Andrews says. “Oftentimes, the contaminant levels will change during different times of year based on the water table, surface water. Those water levels usually decrease in late summer and fall, and you’ll get slight increases in contamination during those times.” ¦

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