Officials at the Catawba River Water Plant, the wastewater treatment plant for the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District, are still trying to control the levels of trihalomethanes in the drinking water they supply to the Panhandle.
Eric Robinson, assistant manager of the Catawba River Water Plant, said new chemicals were being used to treat the water last week, and the results were "encouraging." He said he planned to try a second tactic this week: Using another set of chemicals approved by the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control to see which ones work best at lowering the level of trihalomethanes.
"It's difficult," Robinson said. "You want to correct this problem, but you don't want to create another one."
Despite the headway being made, residents are still concerned about the potential health problems that can occur with long-term exposure to 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.
"We are just not satisfied with "they are working on it," said Meta Wasson, of Indian Land.
Wasson's husband, James, had kidney cancer several years ago and one kidney was removed. She wonders what the affect of the trihalomethanes is on people like James, residents with compromised immune systems, or on pregnant women and small children.
Residents should have been notified of the problem earlier, Wasson added.
Samples of drinking water tested last December showed higher than normal levels of trihalomethanes. Water tested in January 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 April, according to plant manager Mike Bailes.
The readings from December and January came on the heels of another reading from September that also showed a higher than allowed concentration of trihalomethanes.
The water and sewer district wasn't notified of the September reading until March. Because the high readings came in two or more consecutive quarters, the district was required by state law to send out a public notice about the issue, Bailes said.
Wasson and her husband are drinking only bottled water until she is confident the problem is fixed.
She also sent samples of her drinking water to a private laboratory for independent testing.
"You've polluted your own gardens with this water," Wasson said. "You have a nice tomato in that you've grown organically and then you wash it in tainted water."