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ADEM and Alabama Department of Health Withdraw their Health Advisory on Gadsden Water

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

By Monday, May 23, almost every news outlet in the state had reported that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Alabama Department of Public Health were warning that pregnant women, women who are nursing, infants, and infants on formula should not be drinking any water from the Gadsden Water Authority because of levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooactanoic acid (PFOA) that are above the new maximum standards suggested by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Friday, May 20, the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) announced that the tap water from the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, the Gadsden Water Works and Sewer Board, the Centre Water and Sewer Board, A.W. (Vinemont Anon West Point) Water Systems Inc., West Lawrence Water Co-op, the Northeast Alabama Water District, the Rainbow City Utilities Board, and the Southside Water Works and Sewer Board may pose some health risks according to new standards released by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Late Monday, the ADPH changed their advisory: “ADEM announced plans to conduct confirmatory sampling in two systems, Gadsden Water Works and Sewer Board and Centre Water and Sewer Board, which supply Northeast Alabama Water District, Southside Water Works and Sewer Board, and the Utilities Board of Rainbow City. Therefore, these five systems are no longer affected by this recommendation. ADPH will review the test results when available to determine if additional recommendations are needed.” “ADPH understands that Vinemont Anon West Point Water Systems, Inc., is now purchasing water from an alternate supplier, and is, therefore, no longer affected by the EPA recommendations.” “Remaining affected by the health advisory is the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, as well as the West Lawrence Water Co-op and any other systems that purchase water from this Authority.”

State Rep. Mack Butler said on Facebook, “Breaking news! ADEM is standing down on the Health Advisory for the Gadsden Water System based on recent test but they will be closely monitoring the water quality. Alabama Dept of Public Health just notified me minutes ago.”

Rep. Butler said earlier, “I have spoken this morning with Chad Hare at Gadsden Water and they are diligently working on this issue. The samples for the health advisory are from 2014 and 2015. ADEM will be out to conduct new samples ASAP but the water works internal test show it to be below the new levels. Out of the last 4 test they did one was 1 point above the 70 parts per trillion, 2 were well below, and one was undetectable. I also spoke this morning to our state health officer Dr Miller at ADPH and he along with ADEM.”

So what happened between Monday Morning and Monday afternoon?

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On Friday, Rep. Butler wrote, “Health Advisory- Today I received a call from our State Health Officer to make me aware of a recent ADEM alert about our water in Rainbow City, Gadsden, and Southside. The advisory is for pregnant and breast feeding women. Currently Rainbow City buys their water from Gadsden who has announced that they are working on the issue. Southside gets their water from wells but is connected to Gadsden for emergencies and Rainbow City is in the process of connecting to Odenville and will be buying water from them rather than Gadsden very soon. This conversion will be complete in a few months. I will post updates as I receive.

On Friday, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced that it is working with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and federal agencies to determine any potential hazards related to perfluorinated compounds in drinking water in the eight north Alabama water systems.

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final health advisory for perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooactanoic acid (PFOA). These compounds are man-made chemicals that resist heat, oil, stains, grease and water. They are found in products such as nonstick cookware, carpet protection products, firefighting foams, and waterproof clothing.

Recent scientific studies suggest that, “Exposure to PFOA and PFOS over certain levels may result in adverse health effects, including developmental effects to fetuses during pregnancy or to breastfed infants (e.g., low birth weight, accelerated puberty, skeletal variations), cancer (e.g., testicular, kidney), and liver effects.”

EPA’s health advisories are recommendations that pregnant (or women who might become pregnant) and breast-feeding mothers served by the identified water systems consider using alternate sources of drinking water. EPA further states that for formula-fed infants, it is advisable to consider using formula that does not require adding water. Other people served by these systems may also consider these steps.

PFCs can not be removed by boiling the water. Be aware that PFCs will also be in your ice.

Other household uses of water such as showering, bathing, laundry and dishwashing are not a concern as ingestion is the main source of concern.

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For the last three years, the levels of PFOS, PFOA and emerging contaminants in surface water have been monitored in all drinking water systems serving more than 10,000 people and in selected systems serving fewer people.

The ADPH says that it will continue to review all studies and recommendations related to ingestion of these chemicals through public water supplies. ADEM is working with the named water systems to collect additional monitoring data where appropriate and to identify methods to reduce the water concentration of PFCs to a level below the final health advisory recommendation.

Before the advisory was lifted, State Representative Becky Nordgren (R-Gadsden) said, “From what I understand the chemical that they are concerned about in the past was allowed to be in the water at a higher percentage. Recently, the EPA reduced the percentage that could be in the water which then put 8 water systems in our State above the allowable percentage and thus the advisory from the EPA was released. I don’t think it is something to panic about but I am buying distilled water and bottled water for my drinking and then I will use the tap water for cooking and bathing and stuff like that. We hope to get an update soon by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.”

State Representative Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said in a statement on Monday, “Several people have asked me about the water situation in Etowah County and Northeast Alabama. I have spoken today with leaders at the Dept. of Public Health and the Alabama Dept. of Environmental Management (ADEM), and they should be releasing a public press release shortly. “

Rep. Ford said, “The main concern is for pregnant women and nursing mothers, who should avoid using tap water for the time being as a precaution. I am still getting information, and will continue to let everyone know what I hear as I hear it.”

The Alabama Political Reporter will update this story as more information becomes available.


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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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