Average levels of dangerous contaminants in the drinking water drawn from the Coosa River remain at the limit set by a federal lifetime health advisory issued in May.
The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is continuing to collect weekly samples from drinking water drawn from the Coosa and distributed by Gadsden Water Works Board.
The average of the most recent four samples was 70 parts-per-trillion, according to State Toxicologist John Guarisco, of the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Still in effect, Guarisco said, is a public reminder issued in September for pregnant women, nursing mothers, formula-fed infants and other sensitive populations “to consider using alternate sources of drinking water.”
He downplayed the risk of drinking the water over a short period of time. “The 70 ppt advised limit is for a lifetime, so it averages out. In fact, for this calendar year, the average of these chemicals is below 70.”
Despite publicity over the PFOA and PFOS pollution, there has been little noticeable outcry about water quality since earlier this year when the Environmental Protection Agency health advisory was issued. “There’s been hardly any response to that situation,” according to Mary Thomas, business manager for the Whorton Bend Water Authority. The 740-customer system buys its water from GWWB.
That was echoed by local businessman Trace Newton, a member of the Gadsden-Etowah County Chamber of Commerce’s current class of Leadership-Etowah.” Newton said he was not aware of any discussions of water quality emerging in that group. “Maybe one neighbor mentioned it to me. Maybe we need to look into it more, but it just has not come up much.”
Gadsden Water Works attorney Rhon Jones says, however, that contaminant results hurt the Gadsden water system’s business, and the levels have the potential for causing health problems in people who drink the water. “Other water systems probably aren’t too keen on buying water that tests above the EPA lifetime health advisory limit,” Jones said. GWWB is suing 45 carpet, textile, and other manufacturers on the upper part of the river who it alleges are responsible for the pollution.
GWWB, Jones said, needs a new, multi-million processing system that would be capable of reducing the levels of the chemicals in raw water drawn from its reservoir. “Compensation from the manufacturers in northwest Georgia could result in paying for the better filtration,” he said.
Water systems in the Gadsden area vary in their decisions about using GWWB water. An Attalla Water Department representative said that system avoids use of drinking water from GWWB for its 2800 customers, using it only in cases of emergency because of cost and water quality issues. Yet, he said, any concerns about the water quality have been rare. Attalla typically uses its own wells, which are not affected by the river pollution.
The West Etowah County Water Authority has the option of buying more expensive processed water from GWWB but does so only in emergencies. “We only use Gadsden water when we have to,” supervisor Kenny Smith said. “We have our well and spring and some other alternatives if needed.”
Southside Water Authority reported it primarily uses its own well water to serve its 3800 customers,
Highland Water Authority, which buys all of its water from GWWB, reported no discernible concern from its 1285 customers. The same is true for Northeast Etowah County Water Cooperative and its 1400 customers, according to manager Donald Hale.