Water News

'Musty, earthy' taste in tap water continues in Beaufort

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WCIV) -- The "musty" and "earthy" taste and odor for people on{}Beaufort-Jasper Waterand Sewer Authority's water system is safe to drink.

According to BJWSA officials, the water's taste and color is caused by algae in the reservoir and canal. Crews are working to remove the odor, but it's unclear how long customers will have the off-putting water smell.{}

"The situation is dynamic and an operational challenge,"said Chris Petry, BJWSA's Chief Operations Officer. "The amount and type ofalgae can change daily. The conditions we face today are different than what wefaced earlier this week, and could be different tomorrow. We'll adjust ourmitigation efforts as changes occur in our source water."{}

Several plans of action were put into place in the last week which may help improve the water.{}

Officials say{}customers in NorthernBeaufort County -- including Port Royal, Burton, Beaufort, Lady's Island, St. Helena Island -- and near the Plant -- including Callawassie, Spring Island, parts of Okatie -- are affected.{}

"Weare committed to fixing this problem as soon as possible, and we're dedicatedto finding long-term solutions for minimizing taste and odor events," said EdSaxon, BJWSA's General Manager.

The company says it has hired an outside consultant to check the system and make recommendations for improvements.{}

Lead tainted water in SC communities



Lead has tainted drinking water in more than two dozen South Carolina communities during the past five years at levels that exceed a federal safety standard, according to data released Friday by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Most of the utility systems with elevated lead levels were small ones near Columbia and Rock Hill, but DHEC also has found lead pollution in pockets of the Lowcountry and western South Carolina, records show. The State newspaper requested the information in response to the water crisis in Flint, Mich., this year.

DHEC suspects elevated amounts of the toxic metal resulted from corrosive water washing lead from pipes that serve homes, although officials said this week they will launch a special study to learn more.

“We just want to try and determine what the factors are that may be leading to some of these small, rural systems having exceedences” of federal standards for lead, DHEC water official David Baize said in an interview with The State.

The department said people should not be unduly alarmed because homeowners can take simple steps to avoid lead exposure. Letting cold water run for about 30 seconds before drinking or cooking with it should flush out most lead from lead and copper pipes, Baize said.


Beyond Flint: Excessive lead levels found in almost 2,000 water systems across all 50 states

While a harsh national spotlight focuses on the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich., a USA TODAY NETWORK investigation has identified almost 2,000 additional water systems spanning all 50 states where testing has shown excessive levels of lead contamination over the past four years.

The water systems, which reported lead levels exceeding Environmental Protection Agency standards, collectively supply water to 6 million people. About 350 of those systems provide drinking water to schools or day cares. The USA TODAY NETWORK investigation also found at least 180 of the water systems failed to notify consumers about the high lead levels as federal rules require.

Many of the highest reported lead levels were found at schools and day cares. A water sample at a Maine elementary school was 42 times higher than the EPA limit of 15 parts per billion, while a Pennsylvania preschool was 14 times higher, records show. At an elementary school in Ithaca, N.Y., one sample tested this year at a stunning 5,000 ppb of lead, the EPA’s threshold for “hazardous waste.”

Melissa Hoffman, 40, expresses her concerns about the high lead levels found at her children's school, Caroline Elementary School, during a town hall meeting March 3, 2016, in Ithaca, N.Y.
(Photo: Romain Blanquart, USA TODAY NETWORK)

"This is most definitely a problem that needs emergent care," Melissa Hoffman, a parent in Ithaca, forcefully pleaded with officials at a public hearing packed with upset parents demanding answers.

In all, the USA TODAY NETWORK analysis of EPA enforcement data identified 600 water systems in which tests at some taps showed lead levels topping 40 parts per billion (ppb), which is more than double the EPA's action level limit. While experts caution Flint is an extreme case of pervasive contamination, those lead levels rival the 400-plus of the worst samples in far more extensive testing of around 15,000 taps across Flint. The 40 ppb mark also stands as a threshold that the EPA once labeled on its website an “imminent” health threat for pregnant women and young children.

Even at small doses, lead poses a health threat, especially for pregnant women and young children. Lead can damage growing brains and cause reduced IQs, attention disorders and other problem behaviors. Infants fed formula made with contaminated tap water face significant risk. Adults are not immune, with evidence linking lead exposure to kidney problems, high blood pressure and increased risks of cardiovascular deaths. The EPA stresses there is no safe level of lead exposure.


Georgetown drinking water flunks test

Notices are going out to 13,500 people in Georgetown that their drinking water flunked a test this month. The water tested positive for total coliform, a measure of bacteria in the water.

“We ended up with two (of 15) samples in February that came up positive,” said John Sawyer, Savannah’s director of public works and water resources. That’s just above the threshold for notification.

Despite the failed test and federally required notice, Sawyer said the water is safe and there is no need to boil water.

Subsequent testing of the original sites plus four sites around each of them within 48 hours found no coliforms. The eight wells in the Georgetown/Gateway system were found to be bacteria free. A check of the original failed samples also showed a high residual amount of chlorine.

That wouldn’t be the case with a true bacterial issue, Sawyer said. He suspects instead the problem was with the testing procedure; he fears a staffer accidentally contaminated a bottle neck or cap with their finger. But under federal law, the notification letters can’t offer this reassurance or explain the circumstances; they can only notify using language specified in the federal Safe Water Drinking Act.

Coliform bacteria are common.

“Coliform is everywhere,” Sawyer said. “It’s in the soil, water. It’s all over the place. Coliforms themselves are not necessarily dangerous and hazardous.”

But because they’re hardier than other dangerous bacteria, they’re used as an indicator. If there’s no coliform, water suppliers can be sure there’s no fecal coliform or E. coli, which can cause disease. The subsequent testing of the flunked Georgetown sites also indicated no E. coli.

The last time a Savannah-run system had a similar notice was in 2009, with the Wilmington Island and Savannah main systems showing total coliform. Then as now, no retest ever showed bacteria twice from the same source, and no illness-causing bacteria such as E. coli was ever found, but the regulatory mechanism was tripped.

In total, Savannah provides drinking water to about 200,000 people, Sawyer said.

He expects the Georgetown mailing, which will go out by the end of the week, to cost $2,000 to $4,000.

“We pride ourselves on not having anything like this happen,” said Sawyer, who lamented the timing of this incident, which came to light after he extolled the city’s stellar water record in the Sunday Savannah Morning News. “When it does, everybody goes into immediate upset stomach mode. This is what we do and we take pride in what we do.”

Georgetown residents with questions about their water or the notice can call Heath Lloyd at 912-964-0698.