Some area drinking water fails to meet federal safety standards - WSMV News 4

Some area drinking water fails to meet federal safety standards

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We trust that the water we drink is safe. After all, it gets cleaned in systems that are supposed to remove anything dangerous. But a Channel 4 I-Team investigation found drinking water systems all across middle Tennessee are receiving warnings for violating federal safety standards. The Channel 4 I-Team's Caroline Moses analyzed three years worth of data to uncover the facts.

Drinking water experts said treatment facilities in the middle Tennessee area consistently have issues with keeping certain chemicals at safe levels. The Channel 4 I-Team learned that in one water system, even after the state repeatedly warned them to clean up their water, thousands of people continue to drink it without chemical levels corrected.

Frank Horton has lived with his family in Sumner County for more than a decade. He said the only thing he is willing to do with his tap water is wash dishes. About three years ago he stopped drinking the water because he didn't like the taste.

According to state records obtained by the Channel 4 I-Team, that's about the same time the system that provides his water to the Castalian Springs- Bethpage area started having issues with keeping their water free of potentially dangerous chemicals.

"I wouldn't drink it knowing what it will cause," Horton said.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's inspection reports show the Castalian Springs- Bethpage water system has had issues with elevated levels of what's called haloacetic acids and trihalomethanes.

These are chemical byproducts that the EPA says can cause cancer, so the EPA put limits in place for how much of these byproducts can show up in drinking water.

"Is this really a concern?" the Channel 4 I-Team's Caroline Moses asked.

"It would be to me," said water expert Barry Sulkin.

Castalian Springs is not alone.

Our analysis of state inspection reports reveals in the past three years, 54 water systems across the area violated federal regulations. The violations range from elevated levels of potentially dangerous chemicals, to systems not testing their water enough.

Take for example, Fort Campbell: This system failed to perform proper tests for certain chemicals. And Smyrna violated federal standards for how muddy the water can safely be. Fairview, Centerville, Winchester and Springfield also all had violation so serious they were required to send out notices warning the public.

"The smaller systems don't have the money or the expertise on site," said Vanderbilt water expert Alan Bowers.

But of the 54, all have fixed their problems except for Castalian Springs- Bethpage. They continue to violate federal levels month after month and, on some occasions, even doubling the accepted standard.

And here's the real issue: while thousands continue to use the water there, there's a blame-game going on, and no one has a fix.

"I think they ought to get their act together and get it right," Horton said.

About 9,000 people get their water from the Castalian Springs- Bethpage system. We asked several water experts if people there should be concerned. While scientists said there is not yet enough long-term testing to know the full impact, water expert Barry Sulkin put it this way: "It's not something you want to be drinking."

Castalian Springs- Bethpage buys its water from Gallatin. Gallatin's water meets EPA standards. But water has to travel through ten miles of pipes to get from Gallatin to Castalian Springs, and in those pipes, the water often sits still. Water experts said the longer it sits still, the longer chemicals have to react and to create more byproducts. That's why Castalian Springs has faced multiple chemical byproduct violations, while Gallatin has had no problem.

The director of Castalian Springs- Bethpage's water system said there's nothing he can do about how long the water sits still.

"All I do is distribute the water.  Other than trying to keep (the water) as fresh as I can, my hands are tied," said Benny Oldham.

But Gallatin's water system director says once water enters Castalian Spring's system, called at that point the master meter, it's no longer Gallatin's problem.

"Once it leaves the master meter it's their responsibility. All I'm responsible for is up to the master meter itself," said Benny Baggett.

The state blames them both. According to the state, the two systems have to work together to keep chemical levels contained.

It could ultimately become Gallatin's problem soon, because Castalian Springs has higher than acceptable level of chemicals, the state requires Gallatin to lower the chemicals in its water.

But Gallatin's water director said they don't have the equipment to do it. So state regulators said Gallatin could soon face a fine.

"Where you left it with the state, there's no solid solution?" Channel 4 I-Team's Caroline Moses asked.

"There's not at this point," Baggett said.

"It needs to be explored, not just hands thrown up in the air," Sulkin said.

While the two water systems hash it out, the people of Castalian Springs- Bethpage still have higher than acceptable levels of potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

"Anything that can lead to cancer needs to be avoided," Sulkin said.

Gallatin's director said they are testing new technology to find an actual solution. And Castalian Springs is looking at possibly building its own treatment facility. But both possibilities would potentially mean higher water bills for people in those areas.

If you are interested in learning about your own water system, and finding out if they violated federal safety standards, we've posted those records here:

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