Summerville officials are turning to the City of Rome for guidance in dealing with a recent water contamination advisory issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Residents of the Chattooga County community are being directed by the EPA to fill up containers of fresh water from a water truck at City Hall after the city’s Raccoon Creek treatment plant showed high numbers of perfluorinated compounds — toxic, man-made chemicals used to make carpet, clothing, cookware, paper and food packaging materials.
“I really feel for them,” Rome Water and Sewer Division Director Mike Hackett said of Summerville’s quandary during a Water & Sewer Committee meeting.
Rome knows all too well the costly issues of such contaminants in its drinking supply drawn from local rivers. The city recently filed a lawsuit against more than 30 companies that own or operate carpet-related facilities in the Dalton area upstream.
This came on the heels of the city spending — and continuing to spend — tens of millions of dollars since unacceptable levels of perfluorinated compounds such as PFOA and PFOS were discovered in the city’s main water source, the Oostanaula River, more than three years ago.
The Bruce Hamler Water Treatment Facility at 1 Blossom Hill Road underwent emergency, but temporary, precautions to prevent PFC buildup in the water supply by adding granular activated carbon filters and blending in water from the Etowah River.
The EPA has set the latest parts per trillion maximum for such contaminants at 70. In 2015, Rome’s highest reading was 95, but has since knocked that number down to 6, Hackett said.
On Jan. 31, Summerville had a reading of 98 parts per trillion, Hackett said.
“We don’t know what source is causing their contamination, but they may have some legal avenues they can pursue,” Hackett said. “It’s still early in the game for them. This takes time to manage.”
John Boyd, Rome’s assistant water director, said his department has put Summerville officials in touch with the engineering firm that helped Rome with its water woes.
“Moving forward, we’re helping them as much as we can,” Boyd said.
Hackett explained to City Commissioners Randy Quick, Bonny Askew and Jamie Doss — all new to the Water & Sewer Committee — that the EPA and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division can be tough customers.
“We do our best to keep them happy,” he said. “The EPA shouldn’t be able to enforce action, but they are. What’s going on the national scene is EPA has been significantly challenged by Congress to establish a regulation (on water contamination). The science to develop a meaningful regulation can take years and years, especially with human trials.”
Hackett wondered if Summerville’s situation would encourage the stated to creating it’s own regulation. He said the state of New York has established the lowest parts per trillion maximum at 10.
He said he hopes Rome will be able to return to using the Oostanaula as its main water source sooner than later.
“We’re giving up a whole river and having to more or less focus solely on the Etowah,” he said. “It limits what we can do in the way of growth and reliability, being able to switch between the two rivers without concern.”