The town of Wrightsville Beach received notice Dec. 22, 2014, that the water in part of its water system contained amounts of a contaminant exceeding the maximum levels allowed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The contaminant is called trihalomethane (THM) and it forms when chlorine, a disinfecting agent, mixes with organic compounds in the source water. The EPA based its THM limit on animal testing that indicated some people who drank two liters a day for 70 years had an increased risk of developing cancer.
The EPA recently lowered the limit, Wrightsville Beach public works director Mike Vukelich pointed out. It now allows .08 milligrams of THM per liter, while European and Canadian agencies allow .1 mg/l. The town’s water tested at .082 mg/l.
“Why are the Canadians and the Europeans not at the level we are?” Vukelich said during a Jan. 16 phone interview. “They don’t care about their people?”
Town manager Tim Owens and public works director Mike Vukelich both said the town is working to control the THM levels, but in the meantime residents should not be concerned about drinking the water.
“It’s not an emergency,” Owens said during a Jan. 20 phone interview. “If it was an emergency they would require a boil water notice or require us to not sell the water.”
To lower the THMs, the town first determined the elevated levels were only occurring near the end of the pipes.
“We’ve tested the water tanks and the water treatment center and we didn’t have elevated levels there,” Vukelich said. “It’s not all over town.”
He said the THMs were most likely forming because the water remains in the pipeline longer during the offseason, allowing the chlorine to mix with the organic matter found in the town’s source water, the PeeDee aquifer. Many towns that have a tourist season run into similar issues, Owens added.
Surf City recently had THM violations and switched its disinfecting agent from chlorine to ammonia. Using ammonia could cut down on THMs, but Vukelich said, it would likely create a different byproduct.
The potential solution, Owens said, was implementing a more effective method of cleaning and flushing the pipes.
“We realized this issue a while back,” Owens said. “We tried to do some additional flushing. We learned a lot from that, so we’re going to do some things a little better.”
Owens said the town is going to immediately begin flushing the pipes and continue to do so more frequently and thoroughly.
The town is also exploring more long-term solutions. In 2014 it created a committee of citizens to work with engineering consulting firm Groundwater Management Associated (GMA) to address concerns over the town’s aging water and sewer system. The committee is considering several options, which include injecting water into the PeeDee aquifer for later use, creating newer, deeper wells that use reverse osmosis to filter minerals from the water, and exploring the possibility of purchasing water from Cape Fear Public Utility Authority.
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