Water advisory: FAQ on what you need to know to protect yourself & your children

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  • What’s happened? The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and the West Lawrence Water Co-op Thursday urged citizens not to drink the water until further notice.
  • Does this impact me? Please check your water bill.  If you pay the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority or the West Lawrence Water Co-op for water service, then yes, this affects you.  If you pay another utility or water authority, then no, you are not impacted.
  • I live in Morgan County or Lawrence County. Does this impact me?  It might, but it might not.  The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and West Lawrence Water Co-op do not provide water to all portions of each county, and not entire towns, either.  That’s made it difficult to put together a coverage map, and the utility companies haven’t been able to provide one either.  Again, the best thing to do is check your water bill.
  • What is in the water? The specific chemicals the EPA has determined are harmful are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS.) Those chemicals have been used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food, and cookware that is resistant to water, grease or stains, among other things.
  • Do I need to drink bottled water? Yes, you are encouraged to drink bottled water if the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority or the West Lawrence Water Co-op serves your home. Understandably, many people will be searching for bottled water, so you may have to travel out of town to buy it. It would be a good idea to call ahead and ask the store you plan to visit about their bottled water.
  • Why can’t I boil my water? Experts we talked to said because of the nature of the chemicals, boiling the water *does not* get rid of them.
  • Will a water filter help? Charcoal-based water filters may help reduce the amount of harmful chemicals.
  • How long do I need to not drink the water? Until further notice. WHNT News 19 will help send out the all-clear alert when it is given. Experts are concerned the alert could last for months, though.
  • How do I protect myself and my children? The concern the EPA has is about long-term exposure to PFOA and PFOS. The best thing you can do is to limit your exposure.
  • Am I safe to shower/bathe? The water authorities involved have not issued an alert to avoid showering and bathing. The primary form of exposure to PFOA and PFOS is through drinking contaminated water.
  • Can I cook with the water? No. Cooking your food in contaminated water will lead to exposure.
  • Could it impact livestock and crops in the affected areas? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) says the advisory should only apply to humans that are pregnant or are young. However, the animal testing study done showed harmful effects on laboratory animals. As to crops, there’s no way to definitely say all crops are safe or unsafe. However, the main concern  for a contamination is from the leafy parts of the plants.
  • How long has it been in the water? Exactly how long is unknown, but experts believe it has been decades.
  • Am I safe in Decatur/Huntsville/etc.? The EPA monitors those cities and municipalities and has not issued an alert about anyone else’s drinking water.
  • How did this happen? The EPA recently changed its standards in regards to PFOA and PFOS levels.  The EPA has been researching the chemicals and came to a medical conclusion the levels were not safe.
  • Who is to blame for this?  A federal lawsuit naming 3M, Dyneon, and Daikin has been filed. The attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said these companies “all used these chemicals and discharge their waste water into the Tennessee [River] water.”
  • What do those companies say? 3M answered the lawsuit with motions to dismiss and said, “3M believes there has been no harm to plaintiffs’ property due to the mere environmental presence of these materials.”
  • What is being done to fix it? The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water & Sewer Authority said the short-term plan is to install carbon contactors to treat the water by September 2016. The long-term plan is to install a “reverse osmosis” filter to be built on its existing site by 2019. It will be expensive and difficult, but it will be a permanent solution.
  • Someone came to my door saying he could install a home filtration system to make my water safe. Is this a scam? Yes, this is a scam. There will be people looking to take advantage of people’s fears during this time. An expert we talked to said there is no home filtration system that has been scientifically proven to be able to filter out PFOS and PFOA.


We understand you may have more questions. You can email them to actionline@whnt.com.  We also encourage you to watch our Facebook Q&A — and we’ll do more of these in the coming days.  This situation is developing and we will bring you extensive coverage in the coming days as this unfolds.

Read extensive coverage on the water advisory and various concerns on WHNT.com.