Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill 11 #4: Water fears in the Panhandle

INDIAN LAND -- Many Indian Land residents spent the last half of 2008 drinking bottled water for fear that their tap water wasn't safe.

In April, Lancaster County residents were notified that their water contained higher than allowed concentration of trihalomethanes. Trihalomethanes occur as a byproduct of chlorine interacting with organic matter in 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.

Residents were concerned about the amount of time it took the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District to notify customers of the violation. Samples of drinking water tested in December 2007 showed higher than normal levels of trihalomethanes. Water tested last 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 2008, according to plant manager Mike Bailes.

"I'm concerned. Very concerned," resident Meta Wasson said in July. "We've had a tremendous amount of cancer in our neighborhood and that is a concern."

Wasson also worried about the time it takes for residents to get notification about the levels in the water.

At a public meeting in October, DHEC officials talked to residents about their concerns and assured them that any future violations from the Catawba River Water Treatment Plant would be reported quickly. Throughout July, officials at the Catawba River Treatment Plant treated the water with a new technique, hoping to lower the level of THM. In October, the plant had to send out another notice alerting residents to elevated THM levels, despite getting THM levels back into the "normal" range.

Plant Director Mike Bailes explained that individual samples taken in October showed THM levels under the .08 mg/L maximum set by the EPA. The quarterly average, he explained, still showed 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.

The elevated quarterly average required the plant to send out the additional notice.

Despite Bailes' assurances that the water was safe to drink, many residents began purchasing bottled water for drinking and had concerns about watering their gardens. DHEC officials suggested that concerned residents use a charcoal-activated filter, which will filter THM.

At the October forum, Bailes reminded residents that the plant had never had a problem with elevated THM levels before and that he and his staff was working to prevent future problems.

"I assure you we'll do everything possible to keep it from happening again," he said.

The treatments for the elevated THM levels appear to be working. The plant has been in compliance throughout the final months of 2008.