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Water issues concern some

By Staff | Jan 5, 2012

Following the release of a notification by the Shepherdstown Water department, local residents react with concern for Shepherdstown’s water safety.

Brenda Doss, an area resident who started the “Citizens concerned with Shepherdstown water” group on Facebook, said the town’s most recent notice was the tipping point for her.

“The last notification was just the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she said.

“We’ve been getting them since 2006.”

Doss said she started the group because she wanted to see if other residents were also concerned about the water and hopes to use it as a way to brainstorm about possible solutions.

On December 15 the Shepherdstown Water Department distributed a two-page memo to residents of the Shepherdstown area informing them of increased levels of containments in Shepherdstown water.

After receiving a Health Department violation on Dec. 12, the water department informed citizens that the total number of Trihalomethanes- a contaminant associated with disinfectants used to purify water- chlorine in this case, was measured in elevated levels.

According to Chris Hutzler, chief operator for Shepherdstown water treatment plant, elevated levels of Trihalomethanes or TTHMs are associated with increased health risks for consumers, including cancer of the bladder.

Though Doss said she can’t say for sure that the water is causing cancer, she has noticed multiple instances of it in Shepherdstown.

“Can’t sling a cat in this town without hitting someone with cancer,” she said.

Doss, who has been battling ovarian cancer since 2007, takes the potential health risks of unsafe water seriously.

“It’s just one more thing that could add to someone getting the disease. It’s not worth the risk,” she said.

Hutzler said that the Trihalomethanes measure 89 micrograms per liter, exceeding the 80 micrograms permitted for safe water.

According to Hutzler the health department determines whether water is safe based on measurements collected over the course of a year.

Hutzler said that the first and second quarters of last year marked the highest level of contaminants measured.

Trihalomethanes, Hutzler explained, are formed by a reaction between the chlorine and organic compounds found naturally in the water, such as algae or tree leaves.

Though typically Trihalomethanes are at their highest during warmer months, the levels were found highest from January to March of last year.

“In this case we’re kind of defying what’s normal” he said.

Hutzler said that water department staff are discussing what possible causes could have seen the number jump in winter months.

Though the EPA and health department only determined that contaminants may be cancer-causing in the last 10 to 15 years, Hutzler said the likelihood that the water has been contaminated for much longer is high.

“This stuff has been in our water since we’ve been providing water essentially,” he said.

Hutzler said that according to the health department statistics, the consumption of 2 liters of water per day for 80 years, would give someone a 1 and 10 thousand chance of getting cancer.

Hutzler conceded that though plant improvements continue to be made to increase water safety, the only real remedy will be the replacement of the current plant, built in 1973.

He said that the water department will begin a pilot test of a new plant this summer, though actual plant construction is anywhere between 5 to 8 years down the line, primarily because of funding constraints.

Doss said she hopes the town will prioritize the building of a new plant over other potential town development.

“They just need to get the situation fixed,” she said.

Those interested in further discussion and updates can find the “Citizens concerned with Shepherdstown water,” group on Facebook. Questions and concerns can also be directed to Chris Hutzler at 304-876-2394.