Buckley Blasts Water Company’s Notification Delays
By Kevin Rudden Staff Reporter/Columnist · April 11, 2011
The Milford Water Company exceeded the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) during 2010. "TTHMs are a byproduct of chlorine disinfection which form when free chlorine combines with organic matter commonly found in surface water supplies. The level of TTHMs formed can vary and depends of a number of factors including amount of chlorine used, amount of organic plant material in water sources, temperature and seasons," explained David Condrey, general manager of the Milford Water Company. The black bars of this chart show the quarterly average results from the utility's five sampling points. The gray bars show the "running annual average" – used by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to report a violation – for each quarter. As determined by averaging all samples collected from the water system for the last 12 months, the average level of TTHMs found between January 2010 and December 2010 was 81 ug/L (nanograms per liter), just above the 80 ug/L standard. Actual sites that exceeded the MCL limit were: 266 Purchase St. (92.0), 1 Countryside Drive (96.0) and 22 Beaver St. (87.0) in Quarter 2 (April-June) and 266 Purchase St. (96.0), 230 Main St. (110.0), 1 Countryside Drive (97.0), 22 Beaver St. (130.0), and 159 South Main St. (100.0) in Q4 (October-December).
Selectmen Chairman William Buckley strongly criticized the Milford Water Company last month, saying the privately-owned utility was not notifying its customers fast enough about recent problems with water quality. Bearing the brunt of his criticism was General Manager David Condrey, who came to the Board of Selectmen's March 21 meeting to discuss the utility exceeding allowed levels for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) during 2010 and a problem with pH treatment levels.
"The problem we have is that people don't have actionable information to do anything with," Buckley said. "The notifications are coming far too late." He added, "We're looking at months of delays that, in my opinion, are unacceptable."
Condrey said that – after sending required notifications of violations to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – he would then "wait for their guidance" on what wording to use when notifying the public. Taking Condrey through the dates for the TTHM violation, Buckley said that months were going by between the time the violation actually occurred and the time residents actually received written notification letters. He said five months went by from the time the TTHM violation occurred and customers received letters about it. That written notification came one month after the DEP got back to the utility, he said.
During that delay, people did not have information about how the TTHMs might affect them, Buckley said. Although the impact of TTHMs in the water supply may not be immediate, "that's not the words I'm reading and that's not the concerns I'm hearing from residents," he said.
The notification letter issued by the water company stated that the TTHM level "is not an immediate risk." The company said that some people who drink water containing TTHMs 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. "If you have a severely compromised immune system, have an infant, are pregnant, or are elderly, you may be at increased risk and should seek advice from your health care providers about drinking this water," the company said in a prepared statement.
The wording used in the notice came from the DEP and cannot be changed, Condrey explained. "Until I get this [wording] to work with, I can't release it," he said. "I have to issue the notice that they give me." Condrey added, "I'm very much programmed that I go to DEP and get their guidance before I put something out."
Buckley suggested that – since the DEP has already issued advisories about various problems – the wording already exists and should be readily available to re-use and notify customers more quickly.
In terms of the pH level problem caused by a break in a pipeline that delivers corrosion control chemicals to the water system, Condrey said he had the DEP help him identify the problem and "I notified the public as soon as I found out" by putting a notice on the utility's website and notifying a local radio station. "I failed to follow-up on my oversight of the oversight," Condrey said about it taking several months to correct the problem.
"There are people who don't listen to WMRC in the morning," Buckley retorted. Calling the water company's advisories "not timely," Buckley stated, "I'm all about results.
"I'm not going to make a load of excuses," Condrey replied. "I am so used to working with and through the DEP. What I can do going forward is that I will work with the [town's] Health Department as soon as I know something."
Selectman Brian Murray pointed out that all of Condrey's notices complied with DEP regulations in terms of their timing. "Maybe the DEP needs to tighten up its regulations. Everything you did is fully compliant," he said.
Condrey provides his board with more information that his predecessor did, Murray said. "Obviously, the Milford Water Company is in a state of transition and that doesn't happen overnight," he said.