Water Supply Safety in Focus During Safety Month

By: Bill Eller

During National Safety Month, you’re focusing on ways to be safe both at home and at work. Since we’re all preoccupied with improving our personal hygiene to fight the global pandemic, and water is such an important component of personal hygiene, have you considered the water supply safety?

Before it even enters your system, groundwater supplies may be contaminated with arsenic, chemicals and pathogens discharged from factories and farms. Even the pipes delivering the water can allow lead or bacteria to leach into the water after it has been treated. Service lines connecting your residents’ homes to your system are particularly prone to leeching and outside your purview.

Obviously, chronic exposure to arsenic is detrimental, but trace amounts can still be found in water supplies. Most arsenic found in water comes from compounds used on farms and in factories, and the higher the groundwater’s pH, the more likely arsenic will be released.

Bacteria is naturally present in ground water and disease-causing bacteria, or pathogens, can contaminate bodies of water through fecal matter from farms, combined sewer overflows, cracked sewage pipes or leaking septic systems. Most pathogens will be removed during treatment, although a study showed bacteria can form a biofilm on treatment plant filters that allows pathogens to contaminate treated water. Inflow and Infiltration also can introduce bacteria from ground.

Water system work can cause spikes in lead for up to 18 months. More than 10 million lead service lines remain in service, and only half of one percent are replaced each year. It would cost $1 trillion to replace them, a responsibility that partially falls on property owners. Some utilities don’t have the manpower to test consistently, and, in many cases, lead comes directly from the homeowner’s plumbing system, something utilities can combat with anti-corrosion chemicals.

You’ve likely heard of the “forever chemicals,” or per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAs). Unregulated, they’ve leached into the water supply after industrial use and are connected with liver damage, low birth weight, increased cholesterol, thyroid disease, cancer, immune system suppression and hormone problems. They can enter the bloodstream and never leave — most Americans have detectable levels in their blood.

As a municipal official, you are likely already doing all that you can to eliminate contaminants and ensure water supply safety, but the service lines in your community fall outside of your jurisdiction. The NLC Service Line Warranty Program provides educational materials on residents’ service line responsibilities at no cost to your community and offers an optional service line warranty. For more information on how we can help your residents, contact us.