UPDATE: New Caution Issued on Gadsden Drinking Water. Contaminant Testing Continues for Coosa River Systems. Solutions Sought

Levels of dangerous perfluorocarbon (PFCs) in drinking water continue to bedevil the Gadsden Water Works and Sewer Board.

Two recent samples from the Coosa River, where Gadsden gets its water, tested above the federally recommended long-term level for two specific PFCs, PFOA and PFOS. That prompted the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) yesterday to remind pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, formula-fed infants, and others sensitive to toxins to consider using alternate sources of drinking water.

Also, the Board has filed suit against more than 30 businesses and industries, many of them carpet mills, for damages from past and present release of toxic chemicals, including PFCs, into the Coosa River. The Coosa is Gadsden Water Board’s source of raw water for the drinking water it processes and distributes. In the filing, the Board says that its current treatment operation cannot remove the PFCs, and it would have to install a new system to do so.

ADPH’s State Environmental Toxicologist John Guarisco said the most recent samples of Coosa River Water used by Gadsden, taken by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), showed levels of 84 and 82 parts per trillion (ppt), above the 70 ppt recommended safe maximum level established in an EPA health advisory in May.

Tests not Taste:  The Key to Checking Drinking Water Safety    

There’s a frequently asked question on the EPA’s Web site that would, at first glance, seem almost silly. “Can I tell if my drinking water is okay by just looking at it, tasting it, or smelling it?”

The answer, of course, is no. It goes on to say, “None of the chemicals or microbes that can make you sick can be seen, tasted, or smelled.”

Fair enough. That leaves water testing. And just who is checking drinking water for safety? The short answer is your water system. Private wells are another story. The EPA doesn’t regulate them, and many states and towns don’t require sampling, though the EPA recommends owners test their own water.

Otherwise, most systems use private certified laboratories to analyze drinking water. A few systems operate their own state-certified labs and test themselves. Results from the labs are sent to the water systems and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.