Falmouth's Drinking Water Violates EPA Standards

The town received notification on Tuesday that its drinking water had violated drinking water standards for disinfection byproducts.

As to what this means for residents town officials are essentially saying there is minimal risk. The press release notifying the public stresses that residents do not have to boil water or use an alternative supply such as bottled water. “However, if you have specific health concerns, consult your doctor,” it reads.

There were two violations reported, one for trihalomethane and another for haloacetic acid. Although there is no immediate risk, the town notes that some people who drink water containing these disinfection byproducts in excess of maximum contaminant levels (MCL) over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys or central nervous system. And there may be an increased risk of getting cancer.

The first violation, found at 9 Black Beach Hills Road, exceeded the maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for trihalomethane. The standard for that disinfection byproduct is 80 parts per billion (80 ug/l) and the average level over the past year at the site was 90.03 parts per billion (90.03 ug/l).

Additionally, the water system was found to exceed the operational evaluation levels (OEL) for haloacetic acid at the Teaticket Elementary School. The standard for that disinfection byproduct is 60 parts per billion (60 ug/l) and the average level over the past year at the site was 70.75 parts per billion (70.75 ug/l).

Falmouth Department of Public Works director Raymond A. Jack noted that the Teaticket School sample was not above regulatory requirements, as that is a projected value. “That is in there as an advisory,” he said. “They have to project what the next reading is going to be because we don’t have four quarters to come up with a running average.”

Mr. Jack said, “from a process perspective there is very little the town can do..."

This is the first time, Mr. Jack said, that the town has had exceeded the regulatory limit for disinfection byproducts.

He attributed the violations to two specific issues. The first, he said, are changes to the federal regulatory requirements adopted by the state in January 2012.

Prior to that, he said, Falmouth would take all eight of its sites, sampled on a quarterly basis, and average them out together. This number would be an annual running average for all sites combined.

That changed in 2012 when each site was averaged on its own, meaning that a site that may have high values could not be counterbalanced by a site that has low ones.

Inherent Problems with Long Pond

The second issue facing Falmouth is that its primary source of drinking water, Long Pond, is unfiltered. As a result the town cannot remove the organic matter in the pond so it is required to disinfect it, using chlorine.

Combining organic with inorganic matter forms chemicals called disinfection byproducts. The Environmental Protection Agency has standards for controlling the levels of these byproducts in the drinking water.

To combat this, Mr. Jack said, “from a process perspective there is very little the town can do. I expect in the future there may be more exceedances of trihalomethane or haloacetic acid. There is always that possibility.”

The town is working with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate the water supply and researching options that would correct the problem as well as considering a directional flushing program to address the problem.

Ultimately though, Mr. Jack said, the only real solution is one the town is in the midst of pursuing—installing a filter at Long Pond.

This past May voters approved a $3.4 million debt exclusion to cover the cost of a design for an estimated $47 million plant that would include a combination of coagulation, dissolved air flotation (DAF), and granular activated carbon (GAC), along with ozone and chlorine treatment.

The filtration plant was one of several recommended by Tata & Howard and CH2M Hill, which conducted an $800,000 filtration study that voters supported at the ballot in May 2011.

Mr. Jack said both Tata & Howard and CH2M Hill were recently awarded the contract to move forward with the design of the plant. “I expect the design will be completed before the end of 2014 and hopefully we’ll enter into the construction immediately thereafter,” he said.

That construction, he acknowledged, will need approval from Town Meeting members and voters next spring.


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  • Billcarson

    The news story today leaves out any mention of the Falmouth Board of Health. The Falmouth Board of Health is responsible under general laws, state and local regulations, for disease prevention and control, health and environmental protection, and promoting a healthy community. The Falmouth Board of Health may now be in a "Catch 22" over health issues in Falmouth. Recently the Falmouth BOH decided to take no action on three years of wind turbine noise which involved sleep and health issues of local residents. They say what comes around goes around. Now the Town of Falmouth faces a health issue over drinking water. The financial consequences of providing bottled water to hundreds or thousands of residents could add up quickly. What will the Falmouth Board of Health do now ? Is it too expensive to provide good water after all only a small amount of residents will actually be drinking the chemicals ? Maybe the Select Board will decide you can drink the water some percentage of the day ? Falmouth has serious problems over wind turbine noise and now you can't drink the water ???
  • Becca

    Seriously Billcarson? This story has nothing to do with wind turbines. Stop whining.