New Report: West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority tests below warning levels

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A release from the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority says they've seen test results come back that put their system's water below health advisory levels set by the EPA. However, WHNT News 19 has been told the authority has not yet lifted it's "do not drink" warning.

An advisory issued last month said the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority's (WMELWA) water contained unsafe levels of PFC compounds PFOA and PFOS. Both compounds are suspected of causing cancer, birth defects and other health issues. The advisory strongly urged expectant and nursing mothers to use bottled water for drinking and cooking, and for the preparation of baby formula.

Now a new release from the WMELWA says their water has tested below the EPA's advisory level for PFOA/PFOS.

They say recent water samples showed levels of the compounds are now well below new guidelines for what the agency considers safe in drinking water. Those guidelines changed drastically May 19th when the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the levels they considered safe for drinking water. Under the new guidelines, eight North Alabama water systems found they had levels of the compounds above what the government considered safe.

Don Sims, WMELWA General Manager, says his system is now getting most of its water from Decatur Utilities, and fluoride tests confirm DU water is now running throughout the entire system.  They will continue to use DU water until they can complete a temporary granulated carbon filter. The $4 million filtration system will remain in place until a permanent reverse osmosis filtration system is installed and online, probably in 2019. No estimate on the cost of installing and maintaining that system was available.

At a news conference June 2nd, Sims upgraded the advisory urging all customers to immediately stop drinking and cooking with their water, noting the possible health risks and new guidelines for what was considered a safe level of PFOA and PFOS. Making reference to an ongoing lawsuit the authority filed against 3M last year, Sims mentioned his customers didn't put those contaminants in the water but says his customers are expected to pay to have them filtered out. 3M developed the compounds and they were processed at the company's Decatur plant until 2002.

Last Friday, Sims confirmed he had closed a deal with Decatur Utilities to be the authority's primary provider of fresh water until a temporary filter system is expected to be operational. Decatur's water would effectively dilute any remaining contaminated water to a safe level. The water authority says it will continue to purchase 2.8 million gallons of water a day from Decatur Utilities. That will be blended with the water they produce in an effort to stay below the EPA health advisory levels.

Most recent tests on water within the WMELWA system revealed PFOA at 25ppt (parts per trillion) which is well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s new safe standard of 70ppt. PFOS was non-detecetable in the water in those tests.

However, sources familiar with PFOA/PFOS, including researchers, tell us the health risks of these substances build up over time. While reducing ongoing exposure is important, we do not currently know how long the exposure lasted. We're still pressing to uncover details of ongoing health impacts.

WMELWA has two more tests coming, the results of which are expected back on June 20th.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story attributed that the water had been declared safe to drink. The release from WMELWA does not go that far, but does point out that the water samples they have tested so far put PFOA/PFOS levels below the EPA advisory. WMELWA General Manager Don Sims tells WHNT News 19 he is not lifting the "Do not drink" order just yet.