Some Paducah Water customers were exposed to contaminated water earlier this year.
Paducah Water found the chemical compound of total trihalomethanes, or TTHM, was above the maximum contamination level on Jan. 2. Although Paducah Water General Manager Glen Anderson said the levels were reduced within one week, the department sent letters just this week notifying all metered customers of the drinking water standard violation.
TTHM is a compound of three or four organic chemicals and often forms when disinfectants react with organic matter in water. It can be a byproduct of chlorine when it is used to disinfect water.
The maximum contaminant level for TTHM set by the Environmental Protection Agency is 0.080 milligrams per liter. Paducah Water has eight test sites throughout its water system, and in January, the test site at the southeastern McCracken County area tested TTHM at 0.081 milligrams per liter, or about one part per billion over the maximum level allowed.
Anderson compared the level of contamination to putting "one drop from an eyedropper in an Olympic-size swimming pool." Regardless, the Kentucky Division of Water requires that all customers be notified of a contamination within 30 days after the division sends a notice of violation. Paducah Water received the notice on May 22.
"We knew that the running average (of TTHM) at that one site was higher than the limit," Anderson said. "We did not know when we were going to get a violation for it."
The Kentucky Division of Water did not return phone calls seeking an answer to why Paducah Water was notified of the violation more than four months after the contamination levels tested above the EPA standard.
More than 26,000 letters were sent out on Monday, which cost the department about $7,000 in postage alone, Anderson said. He said the department wanted to notify customers along with their next water bills to save money, but the timeframe would not comply with the 30-day notification period set by the Kentucky Division of Water.
The notice customers received said there is nothing customers need to do. However, it stated that infants, those who have health issues, women who are pregnant, or elderly individuals may be at risk and should contact health providers. It stated people who drink high levels of trihalomethanes over the EPA limit may be at risk of several health issues, including increased risk of cancer. Anderson said the notice included required federal language.
"It's not a health crisis by any means," Anderson said, "but it is something we're required to do under federal regulations."
Recently, TTHM levels at Paducah Water test sites have tested as low at 0.059 milligrams per liter, Anderson said.
Finding the right combination of disinfectants to kill bacteria and viruses in water is tricky when the disinfectants can react with organics in the water that then produce byproducts such as trihalomethanes. He said many Kentucky utilities have recently had issues with TTHM, which in some cases may be due to limited funds to improve or maintain distribution systems.
"It's difficult but it can be managed," Anderson said.
Contact Lauren P. Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.