The Town of Frankford recently received a notice from the Delaware Division of Public Health’s Office of Drinking Water that it was in violation of standards for total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) in its water system. Trihalomethanes are a byproduct of water disinfection with chlorine, but excess exposure over long periods can pose health risks.
The Division of Public Health routinely monitors water systems for the presence of drinking water contaminants. Their test results from the last four quarters showed that Frankford’s water system exceeded the standard, or maximum contaminant level (MCL), for TTHMs. The MCL for TTHMs is 80 parts per billion (ppb), but the average of the last four quarters for Frankford’s water was 85.4 ppb.
The State of Delaware on its Web site states that “TTHMs are four volatile organic chemicals which form when disinfectants react with natural organic matter in the water. People who drink water containing trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.”
Ed Hollock, program administrator for the Office of Drinking Water, said there was “no immediate threat” posed by the problem and that any potential threat would come over a long period of time.
“It is when it exceeds over many years, like a 70-year period,” said Hollock, adding that the danger comes when people drink what “equates to drinking two liters of water every day over the maximum levels.” He noted that some people are more sensitive, such as those with severely compromised immune systems, infants or those who are pregnant, and the elderly. He advised that such people seek advice from their healthcare provider about drinking the water.
Other local towns have had TTHM violations in the past. Selbyville was in violation in 2011. The town is now in the process of drilling two new town wells because of another issue — an excess of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).
In 2005, the Town of Bethany Beach was cited by the State of Delaware for having amounts of trihalomethanes in its water system that were more than 175 percent above legal limits. The Town made changes to its water treatment process and successfully reduced the level of trihalomethanes in the water.
But Town Manager Cliff Graviet noted last July that the excess TTHMs were one of the reasons why the Town needed to construct a new water tower, since aging water accumulates more trihalomethanes. That project is currently under way.
The Division of Public Health stated in the notice to the Town of Frankford that there is nothing residents need to do, that the violation is not an emergency and that they do not need to boil their water or take any other corrective actions. They stated that, if there was a situation in which the water was no longer safe to drink, residents would be notified within 24 hours.
Town Administrator Terry Truitt said town officials had met with representatives from the Office of Drinking Water and have identified six injection areas where they will test the groundwater before the chlorination process. They will then do water tests inside the water plant, both before and after filtration.
Hollock said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allocated money to Congress for training and technical assistance. He said Texas A&M’s Engineering Extension Service was one of four agencies that offer one-on-one technical assistance in all 50 states.
Hollock said he recommended they look at both the Selbyville and Frankford plants, since both have had issues with TTHM spikes in the past, and because of Selbyville’s recent issue with MTBE. They were scheduled to visit each of the plants in recent weeks and offered the recommendations to Frankford for their recent spikes.
State officials are asking that people share the notice with “all the other people who drink this water, especially those who may not have received this notice directly — for example, people in apartments, nursing homes, schools, and businesses.”
For more information, contact Terry Truitt at (302) 732-9424 or Sharon Scheers, environmental health specialist with the Office of Drinking Water at (302) 741-8627.