What is it about drinking water that gets people up in arms?
Asbestos found in water drawn from a fire hydrant in North Falmouth is the latest source of consternation. No one wants to drink water that has asbestos in it, but perspective is in order. Water Superintendent Stephen Rafferty said, based on tests on mice, people have a one-in-a-million chance of developing a benign polyp if they drink contaminated water every day for 70 years.
Michael Heylin, for one, doesn’t like those odds and went so far as to tell the selectmen Monday that the town is facing a health crisis.
It is reminiscent of the reaction 10 years ago or so ,when elevated levels of E. coli were found in water samples. The outrage was so strong that the water superintendent at the time left the job. The problem then was that the high levels were not reported right away. Some took that to mean there was a cover-up.
We stood behind the water department. The water superintendent had been on vacation and was blindsided by developments. It was an unfortunate sequence of events. But no one got sick; there was no health crisis. The water superintendent followed up appropriately.
And we stand by Mr. Rafferty during this round of outrage. He is doing a fine job and responding to events professionally and appropriately. He is certainly not hiding anything.
Yes, there are problems but at this point, everyone in town should know that Mr. Rafferty and his department are dealing with errors of the past, not the present. The water mains under Main Street that are being replaced are 100 years old. There are neighborhoods where rusty water comes out of faucets. Prior to the new water filtration system at Long Pond, there were problems with chlorine byproducts. Now we are dealing with pipes that were laid years ago that have asbestos in them.
Some of those pipes were dug up after they broke and were improperly stored at the water department on Pumping Station Road. But that has nothing to do with asbestos found in water from the main in North Falmouth.
Marc Finneran criticized the water department on Monday for not flushing the town’s water mains frequently enough. He may well be right about that but rather than complain, how about urging the town to raise water rates, so the department can put resources into the endeavor.
But no one wants to pay, not for anything. Mr. Heylin wants the selectmen and the town manager to pay out of their own pockets for testing of water at North Falmouth residences.
But that is not the way it works. Either water users and taxpayers come up with the money for more testing and new water mains, or we live with what we have and have been for a very long time.