Two water facilities that provide drinking water to Lawrence County citizens have been notified by the EPA that their water contains excessive amounts of two chemicals that can be potentially harmful.
The EPA issued a health advisory on Thursday, May 19, saying eight facilities in Alabama showed two synthetic chemicals, known as PFOS and PFOA, in concentrations higher than recommended.
Two of those eight facilities are the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and the West Lawrence Water Co-Op.
The advisory warned consumers that exposure to elevated levels of the two compounds can lead to a number of health problems over time, including cancer in adults and developmental effects impacts to fetuses and breastfed infants.
The EPA recommends that pregnant and breast-feeding mothers served by those water systems consider using alternative sources of drinking water.
For formula-fed infants, the recommendation is to consider using formula that does not require adding water. Other people served by these systems may also consider these steps.
Originally, the Vinemont Anon West Point Water System, which provides water to some in Lawrence County, was also on the list, but was taken off in an updated EPA advisory on Monday, because that water system is now purchasing water from an alternate supplier.
The two synthetic chemicals were used to manufacture non-stick cookware, stain-resistant products like Scotchgard, firefighting foam, waterproof clothing and other consumer products.
Those two compounds are widespread throughout the environment and are found in humans. They do not break down naturally and concentrations of the substances can build up in people and animals over time.
The new EPA advisories warn that if the chemicals are consumed in drinking water for a prolonged period, certain health problems are more likely. The EPA's previous advisory level was based on short-term exposure. The new guidelines reflect what the EPA says is emerging science that lower concentrations can have long-term impacts.
In its advisory Thursday, the EPA said any water system operator whose water has a combined level of 70 parts per trillion of the chemicals must notify its customers of the levels of the two chemicals in its water samples and take steps to reduce the amount of chemicals in the water.
According to a news release from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, typical sources of PFOS and PFOA in drinking water are facilities that manufactured those compounds and industries that used those compounds in their manufacturing process.
The West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority and three of its customers last year filed a federal lawsuit alleging 3M Co. and its subsidiary, Dyneon LLC, and Daikin America Inc., released those chemicals into the Tennessee River. The lawsuit alleges the chemicals entered the authority's water intake downstream of the companies.
The authority sells water to water departments in Vinemont, Falkville, Trinity, Town Creek and the West Lawrence Water Co-Op. The total number of customers is about 25,000, the authority has said.
The 3M manufacturing company, which is located in Decatur, was a major producer of both PFOS and PFOA until the company voluntarily phased out production of both chemicals in 2002.
However, it is alleged that the chemicals are still leaching into the Tennessee River, and eventually Wheeler Reservoir, even though the active production has stopped.
Non-profit environmental group Tennessee Riverkeeper has also filed a notice of intent to sue 3M and others over PFOA and PFOS contamination of the river, saying that runoff from landfills containing high levels of PFOA and PFOS is entering the river and the groundwater.
3M has denied the claims, and have said the health claims in the lawsuits are overblown.
The new health advisories are not an enforceable standard or regulation, but are meant as guidelines for drinking water system operators.
To remove the substances from drinking water, EPA recommends using activated carbon filtering or high pressure membrane systems, which are not standard methods of water treatment.
ADEM said it would be working with the Alabama Department of Public Health and the affected water systems to help bring their drinking water within the new guidelines.
"While any health advisory is understandably a cause for concern, citizens can be assured ADEM has and will continue to provide technical assistance to any affected water system to implement measures that address the EPA health advisory and any health recommendations determined by ADPH," ADEM said in a news release.