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“Blown Out Of Proportion”

Mayor Says Contamination Is Not At Dangerous Level

March 20, 2019
STAFF REPORTS , Wetzel Chronicle

Mayor Clyde Hochstrasser believes the issue of Paden City's water contamination is being "blown out of proportion."

The news of the contamination, by a chemical called Tetrachloroethylene (TCE) - also known as tetrachloroethene (TCE) or perchloroethylene (PCE) - was first brought to the public's attention through the March 4 Paden City Council meeting. Then, Mayor Hochstrasser read a letter from the city regarding a contamination occurrence in the Paden City ground water supply. The letter stated, "Our monitoring has shown an average PCE concentration in the drinking water supply for 2018 of 5.5 parts per billion (ppb), which is in excess of the USEPA's Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) of 5.0 ppb. The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health has issued us a formal Notice of Violation for exceeding the MCL for PCE."

Last week Mayor Hochstrasser said while the issue is being treated seriously, the contamination is not at dangerous levels, and work is being done to eradicate it from the water. He said because the city is 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) over the MCL, the state requires quarterly testing. However, Hochstrasser said, Paden City has been testing the water each month to ascertain if the water is safe to be used by town residents. Hochstrasser said testing will continue, and safeguards are in place as the city works to reduce the contamination.

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The mayor explained the PCE contaminant first appeared as a result of an old dry cleaners in town - Band Box Cleaners - that had closed its doors nearly 18 years ago. He said the chemical had seeped through the sewer lines and went down the drains before finding its way into, what is called, the Number Two Well that was in direct line with the Band Box Cleaners facility. When this well first began showing signs of contamination roughly six months ago, the town shut it down. According to the mayor, this contamination issue was thought to have been solved. However, because the wells draw from the same aquifer, the contamination had spread. Hochstrasser reported to The Wheeling Intelligencer that two more wells began showing contamination "just recently."

Hochstrasser said the city plans to add more volume to the air stripper in order to remove more of the PCE. He explained this is the city's first option in lowering the levels of PCE in the water. He said the "second line of defense" is to put in interceptor wells in order to protect the supply wells.

Another option available to the town is to implement a carbon system. However, Hochstrasser explained as this is a costly move, it will be reserved as a last resort. He said if the city were to act on this option, assistance would be needed from the government, as the city would be unable to afford such a move.

In the meantime, Hochstrasser has said the town's efforts to combat the contamination are being assisted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, WV Bureau for Public Health, WV Rural Water Association, and Thrasher Engineering.

Hochstrasser continued to refer to a letter sent out to residents, stating that certain measures are being taken in order to prevent any health risks posed by PCE, and that work is being done to eradicate the contaminant. The letter, in a memo-type format from The City of Paden City, was not dated or signed and was the information the mayor presented at the March 4 council meeting. At that council meeting, the mayor had read, "According to the federal regulations, 'Some people who drink water containing tetrachloroethylene in excess of the MCL over many years could have problems with their liver and may have an increased risk of cancer. And, according to the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), someone's odds of getting cancer from PCE in their drinking water would increase by one in one million if they consumed 17 ppb PCE over a lifetime.' While the health risks associated with PCE currently in your water supply are minimal, we will do everything we can to reduce them. Contamination of water supplies with PCE has occurred in other cities in West Virginia, and elsewhere, and they have taken steps to correct it. We will do the same."

Hochstrasser said Paden City has a water project beginning in a year and a half, and it is hoped to have the issue cleared up by that point. As part of this project, new tanks will be installed with what was described as a sprinkler system that the mayor said could help remove some of the PCE in the instance that the chemical still lingered in the town's water supply.

This new system will come with a monetary cost. Due to the water project, the city plans to raise its water rates by $6.11 per month starting in May 2019. The rate will increase again by $6.11 per month in July 2020, and one final raise of $6.11 in July 2021 for a total of $18.33 a month after the three years.

This increase comes after an ordinance passed in March 2018, which increased customers' average monthly bills by approximately 9-1/2 percent each.

Notably, during the March 2018 council meeting, then-mayor Ken Stead had reported that the city is having "serious water issues," and the city was trying to correct those issues on a thin budget.

At that time, Stead had explained the city had been dispensing brown water. He said the water had been tested and was acceptable to drink. Stead said the city's water tanks had been close to running empty due to the fact the telemetry system was beginning to fail. Stead had explained the brown water was due to the rust and sediment that has built up and gets dispensed when the water in the tanks is too low. He had then suggested residents drain the dark water through an outside faucet until the water clears.

In February 2018, Stead had reported that the city's water tanks need replaced.

It was reported at that meeting that the city's tanks had not been worked on in 10 years and were then in need of major repairs. By law, the city is required to have a 72-hour backup of water, which would be one million gallons. It was noted then that one tank was built in 1906, one in 1907, and the third was built in the 1950s.

Stead had then noted, "We have distribution problems. We have tank and storage problems. We have pumping problems, and we have well problems."

In February 2017, council had discussed the high amount of water being pumped through the city's water system. Public Works Superintendent Josh Billiter talked about a pair of the city's aging water tanks that needed to be replaced. He had said the city should have three days worth of water in storage in the 90-year-old tanks, but recent water leaks were able to quickly deplete the reserves within 18 hours.

At that time, Billiter had reported the system pumps around 500,000 gallons per day, versus 300,000 several years prior to that point. He had then recommended rate increases to provide more funding for repairs and meters.

In a recent interview, Lew Baker, sourcewater specialist with the West Virginia Rural Water Association, likened the danger presented by the PCE in Paden City's drinking water to "driving 55 mph in a 50 zone."

"It's not necessarily a huge increase and risk," Baker said. "There's not really any extra steps (residents) should take. I wouldn't."

However, DEP spokesman Terry Fletcher referenced the above-mentioned risks referenced by the ATSDR, noting "PCE is likely carcinogenic to humans."

"The EPA plans to conduct additional phases of (evaluation) to better characterize local groundwater movement and the extent of contamination, as well as evaluate additional potential sources," Fletcher said.

According to the previously mentioned Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry - a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, PCE evaporates quickly from water into air, though some may remain in the water. PCE is generally slow to break down in water. When found in water, PCE can enter the body "when you drink or touch the water or when you breathe in steam from the water."

"Most of the (PCE) that you breathe in or drink will move from your stomach or lungs into your bloodstream. When you touch water containing (PCE), some of it can get through your skin into your body, but not as much as when you breathe or swallow it."

A small amount of tetrachloroethylene in your blood may get changed into other chemicals. If you are exposed over and over again to tetrachloroethylene, some of it may be stored in body fat and the amount can build up over time. When the exposure stops, your body will slowly get rid of the tetrachloroethylene stored in fat.

According to ATSDR, "If you have tetrachloroethylene in your blood, you will breathe most of it out very quickly. A small amount of tetrachloroethylene in your blood may get changed into other chemicals that leave your body in urine."

"Tetrachloroethylene exposure may harm the nervous system, liver, kidneys, and reproductive system, and may be harmful to unborn children. If you are exposed to tetrachloroethylene, you may also be at a higher risk of getting certain types of cancer."

"Exposure to tetrachloroethylene for a long time may lead to a higher risk of getting cancer, but the type of cancer that may occur is not well-understood," according to ATSDR.

"Studies in humans suggest that exposure to tetrachloroethylene might lead to a higher risk of getting bladder cancer, multiple myeloma, or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but the evidence is not very strong. In animals, tetrachloroethylene has been shown to cause cancers of the liver, kidney, and blood system. It is not clear whether these effects might also occur in humans, because humans and animals differ in how their bodies handle tetrachloroethylene."

According to ATSDR, the following agencies have the following opinions on PCE:

The EPA considers tetrachloroethylene to be "likely to be carcinogenic to humans by all routes of exposure" based on suggestive evidence in human studies and clear evidence of mononuclear cell leukemia in rats and liver tumors in mice exposed for two years by inhalation or stomach tube.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers tetrachloroethylene "probably carcinogenic to humans" based on limited evidence in humans and sufficient evidence in animals.

The National Toxicology Program considers tetrachloroethylene to be "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."

Also, "It is not known whether children are more susceptible than adults to the effects of tetrachloroethylene. There are very few studies available to answer this question, and many more studies are needed."

"A few studies in humans have suggested that exposure to tetrachloroethylene increased the numbers of babies with heart, oral cleft, or neural tube defects, but these studies were not large enough to clearly answer the question."

According to the American Cancer Society/, "People can be exposed to tetrachlorethylene by breathing it in, by direct contact with the skin, or by ingesting contaminated water or food."

"No matter how you are exposed to tetrachlorethylene, most of it leaves your body when you exhale. A small amount may stay behind. Some of this is changed by the body into other chemicals and then removed from the body in urine. Some stays in the body for a time."

The American Cancer Society references studies which have "looked for a link between tetrachlorethylene in drinking water and cancer."

" A few studies have looked at areas of Massachusetts where some drinking water supplies were accidentally contaminated with high levels of tetrachlorethylene. (Levels in some of these areas were hundreds of times the current Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] standard of 0.005 milligrams of tetrachlorethylene per liter of water [0.005 mg/L]). These studies found evidence of an increased risk of leukemia as well as lung and bladder cancer among residents with the highest exposure to tetrachlorethylene. However, these studies often weren't able to take other risk factors for cancer into account, so it isn't clear how much the increased risk was from the chemical."

The American Cancer Society notes that PCE is not absorbed well through the skin, "but skin contact can cause irritation."



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