Officials Again Stress Water Is Safe After Tests Again Find Haloacetic Acids

Jul 9, 2019

Higher than normal rainfall washed leaves, wood, and plant debris into the Cobble Mountain Reservoir which has led to levels of halocetic acids exceeding regulatory limits in Springfield's drinking water. Despite it, the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission said the water is safe to drink.
Credit WAMC

    Sample tests continue to show a higher than acceptable level of a contaminant in the drinking water of about a third of the population in western Massachusetts.

    The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission recently notified its 250,000 customers that tests on drinking water taken at various locations in the agency’s service area last month found haloacetic acids at levels that exceed state regulatory limits.

     The contamination is not an immediate health hazard, the commission said in a prepared statement that urged its customers to continue to consume the water as normal.

      It echoes assurances given earlier this year by the commission’s executive director Josh Schimmel after test results of water samples taken in December 2018 and March 2019 also triggered public warnings about contamination by haloacetic acids.

    "Springfield water is safe and still a fantastic product," said Schimmel.

     The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection requires public water systems to test for haloacetic acids because long-term exposure could cause cancer.    The contamination is a byproduct of chlorine reacting with leaves, wood, and plant residue in the water supply.

     The commission said the amount of dissolved organic matter remains higher than normal because rainfall in the watershed of the Cobble Mountain Reservoir was about 40 percent more than usual last year.

      Since the first public warning about high levels of   haloacetic acids last year, water and sewer commission officials have tried to be upfront about the problem.    An FAQ is posted on the agency’s website, a public meeting was held on April 22nd at Springfield City Hall, and officials have twice appeared before the Springfield City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee.

      " We want our customers to have trust and faith in the water they are drinking," said Schimmel "That is really important to us."

       There is a permanent fix to the problem, but it is very expensive and years away.

       It involves an upgrade to the commission’s antiquated water treatment plant so that tiny organic matter is completely filtered out before the water is disinfected with chlorine.

      The project is estimated to cost $70 million and is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

      "We continue to step through a fairly methodical process to find the right techinical approach to solving these issues," said Schimmel in an interview earlier this year.

      Springfield City Councilor Tim Allen called the commission’s response to the recurring water contamination problem “disconcerting.”

      " We're over ( the regulatory limit) again, and we'll fix it in six years -- that is just not good enough in terms of protecting the health of the citizens of Springfield," Allen said in April.

       The commission approved a 9.9 percent combined water and sewer rate hike for residential customers.  The new charges, which took effect on July 1st, will cost a “typical” household an additional $105 a year, according to an announcement from the commission.