GREAT BARRINGTON — Recent tests of Housatonic water show that levels of cancer-related compounds have been falling, but still exceed safe thresholds set by regulators.
Housatonic Water Works Co. notified its customers of the new results on March 30 via mail and a post on its website. If the water is not safe to drink, the notice will be given within 24 hours, the notice said. The notice also said that customers who may be at increased risk of drinking water may want to consult their doctor. This includes those who have “severely compromised immune systems, have babies, are pregnant or are elderly.”
The notice also recommends using bottled water to reduce exposure.
The state’s fact sheet on haloacetic acid (a chlorine by-product, abbreviated as HAA5) states that “drinking water containing haloacetic acid exceeds [maximum contaminant level] May increase cancer risk over the years. “
According to the company, HAA5 levels were 61 parts per billion in water samples taken in February. The threshold set by the Ministry of Environmental Protection is 60 ppb.
However, the DEP measures compliance with this rule by averaging levels over a year. From May to February 2021, the average was 74 ppb, exceeding the agency’s “maximum pollutant level.” During that period, monthly rates ranged from 58 ppb to 103 ppb, the company said.
According to the sample results, HAA5 levels spiked to 103 ppb in August and pushed the average higher. The company said record rainfall in July could be to blame because of uneven levels of chlorine used to disinfect water. It said the company started reducing chlorine as soon as it learned of the problem. According to the company, HAA5 levels have fallen since August.
Historically, the average has been much lower, hovering around 22 ppbs, according to the waterworks.
When asked, the co-owner of the water plant, James Mercer, told The Eagle that the lower results in February were indeed further evidence that the situation has been anomalous since July. The company’s notice said the news was “good” and “indicates that the water is returning to a more normal state,” as far as HAA5 is concerned.
The presence of elevated HAA5 levels alarmed a community already concerned about the water system, largely due to its age and occasional discolored water.
Town officials are working with the town’s lawyers to develop a strategy for a potential acquisition of the private company to integrate it with the larger Great Barrington system and replace its infrastructure. The petition filed in February also called for a town takeover.
The DEP warned the company last month that it would face sanctions if it did not have a plan to reduce HAA5 levels by April 4.
The scientists note that the compound’s effects on human health have not been fully studied.
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