The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control has refused to back down on what City of Rock Hill officials say was a botched water test in a school sink last summer.
The test, conducted in a sink that had not been used for the previous two months, showed elevated levels of Trihalomethanes in the water. The chemical is a known carcinogen and is a byproduct of the city’s water coming from an open-air source like Lake Wylie, deputy city manager Jimmy Bagley said.
“You can imagine in the lake there are leaves, organic and mud — it’s not coming through bedrock, ” Bagley said. ”Anytime you’re pulling water out of a surface water plant, there’s going to be natural organic matter in the water itself.”
Bagley said the city has between 50 to 100 sampling points in areas where water is likely to remain stagnant. A state inspector visits a handful of those sites on a quarterly basis.
“If we’re going to have a problem, [those sampling points] are where they’re going to be,” Bagley said.
On this particular test, conducted before the start of school last summer, levels of Trihalomethanes exceeded federal standards at 0.084 mg/liter. Federal standards sit at 0.080 mg/liter.
“Even if I agreed with [DHEC] that this was a good sample, I do not think it was a true sample of the system,” Bagley said. “It might have been a true sample of the sink, which had any fresh water in it in two months, but it’s not a true indication of what is going on system wide.”
Additional water tests were conducted at the same sampling point and were within acceptable levels, Bagley said. But a communication breakdown meant the information was not delivered to the correct state employee.
If the true water levels had been outside acceptable levels, Bagley says the public would have been notified.
“If we thought there was a problem, we would be telling people to boil water, we’d send out all kind of public notices,” Bagley said. “And if DHEC thought there really was a problem, they would made us do all that.”
Bagley said the city contested DHEC’s request to send out letters to approximately 32,000 customers. City spokeswoman Katie Quinn said a mailing would have cost $14,400. Quinn, Bagley and DHEC later agreed on a written notice to be included in a monthly newsletter sent to every utility customer and delivered with every utility bill.
Current compliance standards were not available on the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s website. The most recent water compliance report dates back to 2009 and shows no Trihalomethanes issues in York County.
School officials routinely flush the lines before faculty, staff and students arrive to campus for the year. An eight-inch water main, like the one that serves Saluda Trail Middle, takes approximately an hour to fully wash out.
“They are just unwilling to back down and say their employees did not do a good job,” Bagley said.
Below is the full text of the January 2014 newsletter inserted into City of Rock Hill utility bills:
The City of Rock Hill strives to provide excellent customer service and the highest quality drinking water. We continually monitor our finished drinking water at various locations in our system.
The City’s drinking water met all federal and state requirements throughout the system from October 2012 through September 2013, except the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) determined that levels of Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) were elevated (annual average of 0.084 mg/L compared with a federal standard of 0.080 mg/L) for one discrete property, Saluda Trail Middle School.
The City disagrees that the levels were high at this one location because one of DHEC’s four samples throughout the year was taken when the facility was not occupied over the summer. The water in this facility’s lines (not the City’s main line) had likely not been recently flushed, leading to unrepresentative and high TTHM results. Moreover, based upon additional testing the City performed in September, the annual average for the location fell below the 0.080 mg/L compliance threshold. Further, DHEC testing in October confirms that TTHM levels remain below the threshold.
Rock Hill Schools, the property owner for this one location, was promptly notified in writing of the DHEC test results, as well as supplemental City testing. Based on this testing and the circumstances described above, both the City and the school district do not believe that there is any cause for concern.
Because the facility in question is unoccupied for periods of the year, the City is moving its sampling location from inside the facility to a nearby City main water line. This will allow the City to confirm going forward that the City’s water remains fully compliant with TTHM requirements. We understand that the school district will implement a line flushing program, as appropriate.
Consumption of water containing TTHM levels above 0.080 mg/L over many years (which is not the case here at all) can cause some people to experience problems with their liver, kidneys or central nervous system and may increase one’s risk of getting cancer.
In addition to the City’s efforts to ensure high quality drinking water, customers are reminded to flush private water lines periodically to prevent water from sitting in the lines for extended periods of time, particularly during warm summer months.
For information about starting a flushing program or the City’s water quality program, please call Susan Featherstone at 803-329-5502.