After months of trial and error, the Catawba River Water Treatment Plant appears to have solved its drinking water issues.
According to officials, for the past five months, the plant's water has been in compliance with DHEC standards.
Last July, Lancaster County residents were notified that their drinking water contained higher-than-allowable levels of trihalomethanes.
Trihalomethanes occur as a byproduct of chlorine interacting with organic matter in water. The Environmental Protection Agency has set the maximum acceptable level of trihalomethanes at 80 molecules of trihalomethanes for every billion molecules of water. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to higher than acceptable levels of trihalomethanes can cause liver, kidney and nervous system problems and lead to an increased cancer risk.
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The problem has been corrected by changing the plant's method of treating water, Bailes said. With the help of a chemical engineer, the plant lowered the pH of untreated water, reducing the total organic carbons. It also changed the way the finished water is chlorinated.
Bailes said he also believes last year's drought contributed to the elevated THM levels, but that recent rainfalls may also have helped solve the problem.
"Those things, along with the rain, helps, and typically in cold months it gets lower anyway," Bailes said. "But we're not going to stop looking at it."
Indian Land resident Meta Wasson has been one of the most outspoken customers concerned about the drinking water. Wasson's husband, James, had kidney cancer several years ago and one kidney was removed. She wonders what the affect of the elevated trihalomethanes is on people like James, residents with compromised immune systems, or on pregnant women and small children.
Despite the plant's success in treating the elevated THM levels, Wasson remains concerned about the length of time it took DHEC to notify the Catawba Water Treatment Plant about the elevated levels of THM.
Samples of drinking water tested in December 2007 showed higher than normal levels of trihalomethanes. Water tested a year ago showed even higher levels.
However, because of the way the water is tested by DHEC, the district did not find out about the violations until last April.
DHEC has resolved personnel and equipment issues that led to the delay, Bailes said. Now, samples are returned promptly, he added.
"That is encouraging," Wasson said.
"My main concern is that we are notified promptly."