published Friday, July 31st, 2009

Dalton water ruled safe from carpet chemicals


by Andy Johns
Audio clip

Don Cope

DALTON, Ga. -- Dalton's drinking water is safe from two manufacturing chemicals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned against in January, but levels well above the drinking water limit were found in groundwater near a wastewater treatment site.

At a news conference Thursday, Dalton Utilities CEO Don Cope said the utility began taking water samples in May after the EPA issued an advisory against perfluorooctanic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, two chemicals used to waterproof carpet and textiles.

"The key is when we test our drinking water ... there are non-detectable levels" of the two chemicals, Mr. Cope said.

EPA has labeled the chemicals "possible carcinogens."

The testing showed levels of PFOA and PFOS below recommended ceilings in water being treated in the utility's waste treatment system, he said. The chemicals also were found in the solid compost at the treatment site.

He said the levels in the groundwater wells were below what most people already carry in their bloodstreams and that technology only recently has allowed detection of such chemicals.

Environmental and labor groups fearful of health effects have been trying to get more studies on the Dalton situation. Representatives of those groups could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Mr. Cope said the utility would continue to look into reducing the levels, but since that water is not purified for drinking, it was less of a concern than drinking water levels.

"We're trying to apply the drinking water standard to sewage," he said.

In February 2008, a former University of Georgia professor reported "staggeringly high" levels of the chemicals in the Conasauga River, newspaper archives show.

Dr. Aaron Fisk said tests in 2006 and 2007 showed levels of PFOA and its compounds were among the highest ever measured in water in a nonspill location.

The chemicals used in carpetmaking get into the sewage treatment system and are supposed to decompose when the waste water is sprayed on soil at the Dalton Utilities' land treatment site, according to previous Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. But Dr. Fisk and EPA officials said in early 2008 they believe the chemicals got into the Conasauga River.

The EPA does not regulate the chemical, but in January it issued an advisory stating that people should not drink water with more than 0.4 parts per billion of PFOA.

That's when EPA asked Dalton Utilities to collect water samples, Mr. Cope said Thursday. The utility has sent preliminary findings to the EPA but has yet to hear a response, he said.

"The bottom line for me is we're trying to be aggressive now that someone has asked us," he said.

Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb and Dalton City Councilman Charlie Bethel welcomed the news.

"It's a good thing that it's not in the drinking water put out by Dalton Utilities," Mr. Babb said.

"Dalton Utilities has a vested interest as a business in the quality of the water in the Conasauga River," he said. "It's an issue of safety on one side and the cost of doing business on the other."

Mr. Bethel added, "The lack of any detectable level in the drinking water has to be a positive."

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

about Judy Walton...

Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...

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