Getting Answers: water contamination | News


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AGAWAM, MA (WGGB/WSHM)–People living in Agawam and Springfield have received notices that their drinking water exceeded the standard for certain contaminates. Should they be worried? We get answers as many viewers voiced their concerns.

“They’ll tell you that it’s fine to drink in the short-term but what about long-term?” said Nick Black of Agawam.

Nick Black lives in Agawam. he, like others in town, has been notified that higher than standard levels of haloacetic acids have been detected in his drinking water.

The same with notices that went to Springfield Water and Sewer Commissioner customers in Springfield and Ludlow. In bold print, it reads this is not an emergency, however, it goes on to say “people who drink this water containing haa5 in excess of the MCL over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.”

Western Mass News is getting answers to understand what this means and who should be concerned.

First – the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection defines Haloacetic acids as “a group of disinfection byproducts that form when chlorine compounds that are used to disinfect water react with other naturally-occurring chemicals in the water.”

Breaking it down further, the chlorine is especially needed after periods of heavy rainfall … which western Mass. experienced last summer.

This creates haloacetic acids, also known as HAA5’s, which are measured four times a year. The longer it takes the water to reach your house after leaving the treatment plant, the higher the haloacetic acid level will be.

The federal dep last altered the regulation in 2012. And if the “maximum containment level” is exceeded… a notice must be sent out to all affected customers….but in Springfield Western Mass News has learned compliance has been difficult.

“There’s really only so much we can tweak and we do everything we possibly can really on a daily basis, and we’re just subject to mother nature,” said Josh Schimmel, executive director of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission.

Josh Schimmel, the executive director of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission located in Westfield, spoke with Western Mass News about the issue that’s affecting this water treatment plant and plants across the country.

“Our treatment technology cannot keep pace with the regulatory requirement,” explained Schimmel.

So what health effects does this pose? We took our questions to David Reckhow, a research professor at UMass-Amherst who has studied haloacetic acids since the 1970’s.

“We see elevated levels of bladder cancer and people who have consumed water that has been treated with chlorine and has a high level of haloacetic acids over a course of 60, 70, 80 years,” said Reckhow.

Officials emphasize there is no immediate risk, however, there are some groups that should pay close attention now.

“it’s the very young and immunocompromised who are thought to be the most vulnerable,” said Reckhow.

Particularly infants being 100% bottle-fed using this water.

So what does this mean if you’re a new mother or expecting a baby soon? how do you keep your newborn safe?

We reached out to the Department of Public Health and Department of Environmental Protection. Both departments declined our request for a formal interview. The DPH did provide us a written statement, but when we asked them for more information … They referred us elsewhere.

the DEP referred us to a list of frequently asked questions on their website and the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission told us they’re not epidemiologists, they simply receive word when they violate the regulations and send out notices accordingly.

The DPH provided us with this statement on the issue, reading in part-quote:

Haloacetic acids in the springfield water supply / massachusetts department of public health statement

“Parents may wish to limit the amount of water containing haa5 and other disinfectant by-products exceeding the drinking water standard that they give their young children. children are generally considered more sensitive to the effects of any chemical than others in the general population and may also consume more water for their size than adults.”

So what’s the plan to address this? With local technology dating back to the 1920’s, a $200 million overhaul to the water treatment plant is scheduled for completion by 2027 which will serve the communities of Springfield, Ludlow, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, and Agawam, to get western Mass. back in compliance and prepare for new regulations set in the future.

“Things are evolving and changing fairly rapidly and that’s why we’re building a new treatment plan that’s going to be able to adjust to a change in regulations and a changing environment,” said Schimmel.

That’s five years away, what can be done now to keep your family safe?

“You should be reaching out to your healthcare provider and looking at how this might impact you,” said Lederman.

Copyright 2022. Western Mass News (WGGB/WSHM). All rights reserved.

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