Although Falmouth’s drinking water on average does not exceed Federal unsafe levels of chlorine byproducts, the board of health wants pregnant women to be aware of its presence and urges them to take colder, shorter showers and drink filtered or bottled water.
During Falmouth’s board of health meeting last night, chairman Jared V. Goldstone presented the most recent drinking water tests and readings that were taken quarterly from December 2012 to June 2014 at certain selected sites around town. During some months, levels of trihalomethane (THMs) and haloacetic acid, both byproducts of disinfection used to treat Falmouth’s water, exceeded the legal limit, but on average, were well below. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), both byproducts may pose health risks.
If the byproduct levels at a site are higher than the maximum contaminant level averaged over four quarterly samples, it is a violation and must be reported to the EPA. The levels in the report do not trigger any reporting.
Dr. Goldstone, a toxicologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, wants pregnant woman to be mindful of studies indicating that 80 percent of THMs exposure occurs in the shower. Steam contains more THMs than liquid, and steam is inhaled and absorbed into skin. “Exposure to these products may affect fetal growth resulting in smaller birth weights and an increased risk for pre-term delivery,” he said.
Back in November, the board sent a similar letter to local doctors recommending that pregnant women filter their drinking water with an activated charcoal filter system. Certain research suggests that long term exposure to these byproducts can also increase the chance of getting certain cancers according to the EPA website. But more vulnerable in the short term may be pregnant women in their second trimester.
“It’s a catch-22. We’re damned if we do, and we’re damned if we don’t,” Dr. Goldstone said.
If the town decreases the amount of chlorine it uses to treat the water, people could get sick from water-borne pathogens, such as harmful bacteria, he said.
The board discussed the construction timeline for the town’s new water filtration plant, slated to be completed in 2017. The $46.5 million plant was overwhelmingly approved by town vote in May.
“All we can do is keep watching the levels,” he said.
“We may want to increase our public outreach until the plant is built,” said board of health member George Heufelder, the director of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment.
At one testing site at Black Beach Hills Road, the THMs levels reached 90 parts per billion, the highest of all the recorded levels. Last September, haloacetic acid levels rose above the regulatory level at Teaticket Elementary School, but averaged about 30 parts per billion.
The warmer months result in more algal growth in Long Pond, the primary source of Falmouth’s drinking water. The reaction between the chlorine and organic matter in the water results in disinfection byproducts.