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Groups say tap water could be harmful

January 10, 2002

Groups say tap water could be harmful



By DAN KULIN
dank@herald-mail.com


Two environmental groups say pregnant women should stop drinking tap water that comes through the Hagerstown treatment plants, because there could be harmful levels of a contaminant, which is a byproduct of the chlorination process to disinfect the water.

But City Water Department Manager Gene Walzl said city water meets government standards and is safe to drink. The city provides water to Hagerstown, Williamsport, Smithsburg, Funkstown and some of the surrounding areas.

Tests from 1996 to 2001 showed that on average, city water meets federal standards for allowable levels of trihalomethanes (THMs), according to a report issued by the Environmental Working Group and Public Interest Research Groups.

But during one three-month period, city water tested above the permissible level for THMs, which are produced when chlorine comes into contact with organic materials in the water during the treatment process, according to the report.

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"Pregnant women should drink bottled water," said Gigi Kellett, a policy associate with the Baltimore-based Maryland Public Interest Research Group.

Kellett said there is a correlation between high levels of THMs in drinking water and miscarriages or birth defects.

Using home water filters helps lessen the presence of THMs, but it does not remove all of them, Kellett said. She also suggested pregnant women take shorter showers or baths to limit their exposure to THMs.

"Using chlorine is one of the best ways to rid water of pathogens, but it produces this byproduct," Kellett said Wednesday.

"Hagerstown is meeting the (federal) standard and is doing its part. But it should be looking at cleaning up the source," she said.

Kellett said the solution would be to clean up the primary source of the city water, which is the Potomac River.

Federal regulations allow for a maximum THM level of 80 parts per billion (ppb) parts of water. Until Jan. 1, regulations allowed THM levels up to 100 ppb, Kellett said.

According to the report, which Kellett said was based on data from the Maryland Department of the Environment, from 1996 to 2001 Hagerstown water averaged THM levels of 47.3 ppb, 11th highest in the state.

Hagerstown's worst three-month average for THMs was 101.2 ppb, which ranked fourth highest in the state.

Walzl said he could not comment on the report because he had not seen it.

But he said that several years ago the city changed the water treatment process, partly to reduce THM levels.

The city was chlorinating the water at the beginning and end of the treatment process. Now the city chlorinates the water only after filtering it, he said.

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