Overview of tap quality in Augusta County

tap water
(© Brian Jackson – stock.abobe.com)

In five years between 2012 and 2017, drinking water quality tests were conducted at 21 utilities across different cities of Augusta County. The reports were picked up by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), indicating that various contaminants were detected.

Out of 21 water utilities tested, Verona Sanitary District – ACSA and South River Sanitary District served the most people, ranging from 5,433 to 23,630 citizens respectively. Even though many of the contaminants detected at these utilities met the federal government’s legal limits, they exceeded the latest EWG health guideline limits. These contaminants raise a big concern for fetal growth and development, or even worse, cancer.

There is a big gap between the federal government’s legal limits defined by the EPA and the latest EWG Health Guideline. The gap resulted from an outdated standard of legal limits for contaminants that had not been reviewed and updated for almost 20 years.

In the case of the South River Sanitary District where 23,630 people were served, 11 total contaminants were found. 4 of them exceeded the EWG Health Guideline, including Chromium (hexavalent), Haloacetic acids (HAA5)†, Radium, and total trihalomethanes (TTHMs)†.

Chromium is a carcinogen caused by industrial pollution, natural occurrences in mineral deposits, and groundwater. The report showed that chromium was recorded at 0.283 ppb, 14 times higher than EWG’s Health Guideline of 0.02 ppb. Chromium threatens the human liver, reproductive system, and even leads to cancer. The best methods to reduce chromium include reverse osmosis and ion exchange.

Haloacetic acids (HAA5)† were found at 5.34 ppb, 53 times above EWG’s Health Guideline limit of 0.02 ppb even though they didn’t exceed the legal limit of 60 ppb. Haloacetic acids are formed when disinfectants of treatment byproducts contaminate tap water. The health concerns for haloacetic acids include cancer and harm to fetal growth and development. Activated carbon and reverse osmosis are the best methods to treat HAA5-infected water.

Radium is a cancer-causing radioactive element mainly found in groundwater, as well as oil and gas extraction. It was recorded at 0.25 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), 5 times above the EWG Health Guideline which only allowed 0.05 pCi/L in tap water. Meanwhile, they got a passing grade from the legal limit of 5 pCi/L. Reverse osmosis and ion exchange are the most common ways to remove radium in tap water.

Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs)† were recorded at 8.56 ppb, 57 times above EWG’s Health Guideline limit of 0.15 ppb even though the legal limit was set at 80 ppb. Caused by water treatment added with chlorine and other disinfectants, total trihalomethanes pose numerous types of cancer, including bladder cancer and skin cancer. Activated carbon and reverse osmosis can be used to filter out total trihalomethanes.

Aside from these 4 exceed contaminants, 7 other detected contaminants can be listed as barium, fluoride, manganese, nitrate, nitrite, strontium, and vanadium. These contaminants did not exceed the legal limit and EWG Health Guideline.

Following South River Sanitary District, Verona Sanitary District – Acsa served 5,433 people in Verona, Virginia. 8 total contaminants were detected at this utility, 6 of which exceeded the EWG Health Guideline.

The biggest concern was total trihalomethanes found at 29.5 ppb, 197 times above EWG Health Guideline while the legal limit was set at 80 ppb.

The second highest was haloacetic acids. They were found at 13.4 ppb, 134 times above EWG Health Guideline at 0.1 ppb but the legal limit was up to 60 ppb.

Bromodichloromethane, a trihalomethane caused by excessive use of chlorine and other disinfectants in drinking water treatment, also appeared in the test. It was recorded at 1.5 ppb, 25 times above EWG Health Guideline. The best ways to treat bromodichloromethane include activated carbon and reverse osmosis. Without proper treatment, bromodichloromethane will lead to cancer, harmful child development, and change to fetal growth.

Other contaminants exceeding EWG health Guidelines included chloroform, radium, nitrate and nitrite. All of these contaminants pose severe health concerns including cancer. Reverse osmosis and ion exchange are advised to remove radium, nitrate and nitrite, while chloroform needs activated carbon to be removed. 2 other detected contaminants included barium and fluoride which didn’t exceed EWG Health Guidelines.

The listed contaminants above appeared in most of the utilities. Aside from those, dibromochloromethane and dichloroacetic acid were two other hazardous contaminants detected. Dichloroacetic acid is a highly corrosive chemical that can lead to reproductive damage. Meanwhile, long-term intake of dibromochloromethane may cause liver and kidney cancers.

Those citizens served by these utilities are strongly advised to install a home water filtration system. The cost ranges from $20 to $1,000 or higher depending on whether it’s a pitcher for a single person, a whole house water filtration system, a reverse osmosis system, or other specialized equipment. Augusta County citizens should obtain a water quality report to figure out which type of filter they should use.

Story by Oanh Nguyen


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