Additional WVU testing confirms acceptable levels of total trihalomethane in drinking water in Southwestern Pennsylvania
Additional testing by the West Virginia Water Research Institute (WVWRI) shows acceptable levels of total trihalomethane (THM) in drinking water at Beth Center Elementary and High Schools in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Those and nine other locations throughout Greene and Washington counties were sampled in February with similar results.
Last November, in response to citizen concerns, WVWRI tested samples collected at the two Beth Center Schools that showed high THM levels.
Funded by the Colcom Foundation, the Three Rivers QUEST (3RQ) REACH program at WVWRI provided the means to initiate this targeted study for THM in response to residents’ concerns.
“The Greene County chapter of the Izaak Walton League had expressed concern over the water quality in Greene County and we were very fortunate to be able to respond to their concerns, first with the testing for radiologicals last summer, and now with digging deeper into concern over THM’s,” said Melissa O’Neal, 3RQ project manager. “When public health is concerned, it’s vital to have reliable data available.”
3RQ REACH conducted a one-month long effort to determine THM levels in five water systems along the Monongahela River from Brownsville, Pennsylvania to the West Virginia state line. Included were: Pennsylvania American Water at Brownsville, Charleroi, Tri-County, Southwestern Pa. and East Dunkard Water Authorities.
Dr. Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the WVWRI at West Virginia University said four weekly samples were taken in February 2016 in the Monongahela River upstream of the water system intakes and at 11 locations throughout the distribution networks. This included Beth Center Elementary and High Schools, where last November’s high readings were found. Both schools are served by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Water Authority, which according to state records is in compliance with total THM standards.
Flow in the Monongahela River during that period ranged from about 5,000 to 37,000 cubic feet per second, averaging a little over 20,000 cfs.
Ziemkiewicz commented that the flow on the Monongahela River was “high but not unusual for winter on the Mon.”
“There’s always a concern that pollutants are concentrated during low flows and diluted during high flows, and during the November 2015 sampling flow was 2,400 cfs. Serious low flow on the upper Mon is below 1,000 cfs.”
The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act regulates the amount of total THM water authorities can deliver to customers. Pennsylvania regulations require sampling for THM every three months and compliance is based on the average of the four most recent quarterly samples. So, while the November readings were reason for concern, further sampling was needed to determine whether an immediate threat existed.
Ziemkiewicz pointed out that the February sampling results did not find any total THM exceedances.
“That is consistent with PADEP’s findings for the Southwestern Pa. Water Authority which services the Beth Center schools,” said Ziemkiewicz. “November’s high total THM levels coincided with late summer/autumn low flows, when water treatment systems are likely to use higher rates of chlorination. This suggests that chlorination alone might be the dominant factor in raising THM levels during low river flow periods. Additional sampling will be needed to see whether these trends hold true next fall.”
The 3RQ program brings together academic researchers with grassroots organizations by collecting field water-quality data and information from local water monitoring groups that are in tune with the health of their local watersheds.
Through its 3RQ program, the WVWRI has been monitoring the Monongahela River since 2009 for a suite of chemical parameters. Results from WVWRI and its partner grassroots water monitoring organizations is shared with the public on the program’s website, 3RiversQUEST.org.
CONTACT: Paul Ziemkiewicz, Ph.D., Director
West Virginia University Water Research Institute
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