The Rome City Commission adopted a resolution Monday night declaring “certain manufacturers and distributors” of harmful chemicals upstream from Floyd County a public nuisance and giving the city attorney the ability to move forward with litigation, if necessary, to protect Rome’s drinking water.
While not naming the companies responsible for releasing the PFOS, perfluorooctane sulfonate, and PFOA, perfluorooctanoic acid, used in the manufacture of non-stick cookware and stain-resistant products, City Attorney Andy Davis did tell the commission they include carpet manufacturers and others that have caused the synthetic chemicals to leach into the groundwater and discharge into the Conasauga River – and ultimately end up in the Oostanaula River.
“While it’s impossible right now to remove all of the pollutants out of the river at this point, the elimination of the public nuisance to the drinking water supply is possible with a reverse osmosis filtration system,” Davis told commissioners.
Davis reminded commissioners of the steps that already have been taken by the city to mitigate the contamination of Rome’s water when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a health advisory in May 2016 limiting the exposure to PFOS and PFOAs in drinking water to 70 parts per trillion.
“At the time of the EPA announcement, readings in the Oostanaula were over twice that,” Davis said. “In the city of Rome, the water department under the leadership of the city administration took emergency action and immediate steps to lower the amounts of chemicals in the water supply.”
The city was forced to temporarily replace primary usage of Oostanaula River water by obtaining water from the Etowah River instead, he said.
It also placed granulated activated carbon in the sand filters of the filtration plant to remove the chemicals, a move that had been successful in other communities.
“These emergency efforts have lowered the city of Rome’s limits to 39 parts and, through the temporary GAC placement in filter beds, the amount of PFOS and PFOA have been lowered to non-detectable in many samplings of the treated water,” Davis said. “But these results did not come to the city without a cost.”
Installation of the GAC system, periodic placement of GAC at least twice a year, construction of a proposed new water line, and pump station improvements to extract water from the Etowah River for treatment are estimated to cost more than $20 million, he said.
To make matters worse, Atlanta’s practice of drawing about 50 million gallons a day from the Etowah and pumping it into the Chattahoochee River to serve Atlanta metro residents without returning water to the Etowah basin makes the Etowah an unreliable source in the long run, he said.
“This results in serious consequences for the city of Rome and the entire Coosa River Basin — especially in times of drought,” Davis said. “The diversion of the water from the Etowah to the Chattahoochee River Basin occurs before the Etowah River ever reaches Floyd County.”
This makes it necessary to return to the Oostanaula River as Rome’s main drinking water source, Davis explained. This is where the reverse osmosis filtration system would come in to replace the GAC method, he said.
The commission’s resolution also would enable the city to do additional research needed to keep the city’s drinking water clean and safe.
After Commissioner Evie McNiece made a motion to adopt the resolution, it passed unanimously.