Fort Mill Times

DHEC tries to calm fears over water tests

Residents concerned abut local water quality gathered at Indian Land Elementary School recently to meet with DHEC representatives.

Approximately 30 people showed up for the Oct. 15 meeting and many of them said they were concerned about recent reports that water from the Catawba River Treatment Plant contains higher than allowed amounts of trihalomethanes. Studies have shown trihalomethanes can cause liver, kidney and nervous system problems and lead to an increased cancer risk in cases of long-term exposure.

DHEC officials and Catawba River Water Treatment Plant manager Mike Bailes tried to reassure residents that the water is safe to drink.

Lancaster County residents were notified in June that their drinking water contained higher-than-allowable concentrations of trihalomethanes. Trihalomethanes occur as a byproduct of chlorine interacting with organic matter in water.

Residents complained about the amount of time it took for lab results sent to DHEC to be returned to the water treatment plant. DHEC didn't notify the Catawba River Treatment Plant until April that samples taken as early as December 2007 were out of compliance.

DHEC official Doug Kinard explained that the delay came because of staff turnover and equipment failure in the laboratory DHEC used to process the plant's water samples. To increase turnaround time, samples from the water treatment plant are now being sent to a private laboratory that can report results within a few weeks.

"CSI ain't real, folks," DHEC official Wayne Davis said. "You don't feed samples into a machine and get an answer. It sometimes takes two months."

Indian Land resident Meta Wasson asked to have the levels of THM reported monthly in residents' water bills. Lancaster County Water and Sewer District Director Mark Knight said he would consider that.

Despite recent samples showing the level of THM within the allowable range, residents of Lancaster County can expect to see another notice in their water bill announcing that the water treatment plant's quarterly samples were out of compliance with EPA standards.

Plant director Mike Bailes said individual samples taken over the last few months show THM levels under the .08 mg/L maximum set by the EPA. The quarterly average, he explained, still shows higher-than-allowable levels because it averages water samples taken from early in the quarter when the plant had not gotten the level of THM under control.

"Everything we've done so far seems to be working," Bailes said. "We are a Cadillac plant. We have way too much pride in our reputation not to use all our resources to fix the problem. I assure you we'll do everything possible to keep it from happening again."

If residents are concerned about drinking the water, an activated charcoal filter will filter THM.

Larry McCullough, who is running unopposed for the Indian Land seat on the Lancaster County Council, said he thought the meeting was helpful to residents.

"The key is getting the interested folks talking to the right folks, to share their knowledge," McCullough said.

Councilman Bryan Vaughn pointed out that the majority of Indian Land residents lived in subdivisions dependent on Lancaster County's water and sewer systems, unlike more rural parts of the county.

"It's a burning issue here," he said.