David A. Reckhow of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department was interviewed on Radio Station WGBY-TV 57 in February about how to interpret a recent finding of slightly elevated levels of haloacetic acids in Springfield’s drinking water. Interviewed on the local public television show Connecting Point, Reckhow said the temporarily elevated levels are caused by the interaction between organic matter in the water, as produced by excessive rainfall over the last few months, and chlorine that is added. He said there should be no alarm about this issue on a short-term basis.
As Reckhow commented on the potential harm, “You need a lifetime of this water, day in and day out, 24/7, for 60 years or more.”
The program concluded that, if people have been drinking this water for the past couple of months, they are in no danger at all.
Testing showed that in December of 2018 Springfield’s drinking water source contained elevated levels of haloacetic acids. Haloacetic acids are one of the compounds the Department of Public Health monitors to determine if water is safe for drinking. Reckhow and Springfield Water & Sewer Commission Executive Director Joshua Schimmel joined Carrie Saldo to shed light on what caused the elevated levels and explain why Springfield drinking water is safe.
When asked to clarify the issue, Reckhow said that “I’m not a toxicologist or epidemiologist, I’m an environmental engineer, but, from what I know, the haloacetic acids and their related disinfection byproducts, the trihalomethanes, have both been proposed as potential carcinogens. And we know from the epidemiological studies that have been done around the world there’s an association between drinking chlorinated tap water that contains these compounds and elevated levels of bladder cancer.”
Schimmel explained the issue as a product of all the heavy rainfall of the past few months, which poured increased organics into the reservoir, all of which generated these elevated levels of haloacetic acids. He said the Springfield water system has undertaken “a multitude of small measures” to adjust the drinking water to this condition.
Reckhow observed that “In order for this reaction to occur, you have to have organic compounds that are naturally occurring in the raw water source – that come from terrestrial plants, trees – and they end up in the reservoir. They’re very low concentrations, you don’t always see them, it’s not obvious that they’re there. And they’re not harmful at all, but they become potentially harmful if they continue to react with the chlorine [over time].”
Reckhow added that the addition of chlorine to the water supply has essentially wiped out outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, and other waterborne diseases in North America and throughout most of the world. (March 2019)