UPDATE: WMEL no longer buying water from Decatur Utilities but warn families should make their own decisions about using the water for now
MOULTON, Ala. – The West Morgan-East Lawrence (WMEL) Water Authority will discontinue drawing water from Decatur Utilities, according to General Manager Don Sims. They had been buying water from DU to mix with their own, in order to dilute dangerous chemicals. Now, Sims they have had a number of positive readings from the water produced by their intake on the Tennessee River, and they will return to using that water, months after saying it was unsafe to drink because of high levels of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).
Don Sims confirms they have closed the valve and are no longer mixing water from Decatur Utilities with their finished water. This, after 4 consecutive samples of the WMEL finished water that showed no detectable level of PFOA and 14 ppt (parts per trillion) of PFOS.
A new guideline from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), handed down in May, recommends drinking water contain no more than 70 ppt of PFOA and PFOS combined.
Sims says, as per instructions from ADEM, WMEL will maintain the connection with Decatur Utilities so the valve can be reopened in the event any subsequent tests show the level of either one of the two compounds increasing.
Sims explains the sample results come as no surprise because the water level in Wheeler Basin is at a yearly high and there has been plenty of flow resulting from rains across the region over the past two weeks. He says as we get closer to autumn, the lake level will begin to drop and the presence of the PFC’s will increase, as is the case annually. He says the fact that Decatur City/Morgan County continue to discharge unlimited amounts of the PFC’s into the river from their landfill and water treatment plant means this will be a continual problem.
The utility is moving forward with a new filtration system.
The concrete footing for the temporary granulated activated charcoal (GAC) filter was poured Thursday, and the filtration system itself should arrive within three weeks. The GAC system is expected to filter at least 99.9% of the PFC’s from their water, which should end the need to mix water from Decatur Utilities to keep those levels within legal limits. When asked why then is it necessary to add a reverse osmosis system, which WMEL is planning on, Sims explained while the GAC system is very effective in dealing with PFOA and PFOS, it will not filter out all PFC compounds.
He says, “We know 3M has replaced those compounds with others, but because they’re not regulated, it could be years before we learn what they are and what health effects they may have.”
Those who monitor the situation closely say they will not be using WMEL’s water.
“It’s a crap shoot. Me and my family will not be drinking or cooking with the water because today it might be decent but tomorrow and the next day and the next day it may be terrible. So it just depends totally on the wind,” according to Ron Mixon, spokesperson for the environmental group Warriors for Clean Water.
Mixon says the lake is roughly a mile and a half wide where West Morgan East Lawrence draws their water, and he says the wind can drive contamination on one side of the lake over to the other side.
Sims is quick to point out it takes six weeks to get the test results back from the lab and he says the state then averages the results to get their final numbers. As a result, Sims tells us the test results can fluctuate wildly and still produce a final number below the new EPA guidelines for drinking water. As such, Sims tells us until the new carbon filtration system is in place, he says each family should continue to make their own decisions about using the water. He highly encourages pregnant and nursing mothers to use bottled water, and says bottled water should also be used to prepare baby formula.