VEAZIE, Maine — Town officials have decided to hire a company to conduct independent water testing for trihalomethanes — disinfection byproducts known to be harmful in large quantities — in response to a group of residents who question the reliability of testing done by the Orono-Veazie Water District.
The water in 10 homes will be tested, according to a water district official.
Trihalomethanes are a group of four chemical compounds, including chloroform, that form when chlorine used to kill bacteria reacts with naturally occurring organic matter, such as decaying leaves, algae and human or animal waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The compounds build up over time, so the longer the water remains in the water distribution system, the higher the levels become. Exposure occurs not only from drinking water containing the compounds but also from showering or bathing in it. Too much exposure has been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
The Orono-Veazie Water District exceeded the annual average 80 parts per billion limit for THMs in 2012 and is under a consent order with the state that requires it to hire a consultant, come up with a plan to address the problem and complete the necessary improvements.
According to the water district, water lines have been flushed to reduce THMs that generally form in dead-end and low-flow lines where water turnover is infrequent because of low water usage. The most recent testing has resulted in numbers below the EPA limits. But just barely.
“Right now, we’re traveling right along the line,” Water District Superintendent Dennis Cross said at last week’s Orono Town Council meeting, during which a special public meeting was scheduled for next week in order for residents to have their concerns heard. “Anything could push us over the line.”
The “community conversation” is scheduled to occur after the Orono-Veazie Water District’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 11. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. and the water district discussion is expected to begin at around 7 p.m., a town official said Thursday.
The meeting place has also been moved to Orono High School’s cafeteria to accommodate the crowd expected.
The water district looked at a number of options to quickly reduce the THMs and “flushing was the top option,” the superintendent said. “Another thing we did … was actually completely drain that tank and had a company, a private company, come in and pressure wash the tank.”
The steps have helped to reduce levels of the disinfection byproducts, but “we must find a way to loop this pipe (along the dead end streets) to eliminate it [the stagnant water],” Cross said. “The water product stays there until it’s used.”
Some residents in town say the recent testing was done directly after flushing a major water line, resulting in skewed numbers that do not represent the town’s overall water supply. That group asked town leaders to do the independent testing.
“We’re just in the planning stages at this point,” said Leonard, who is also the town’s police and fire chief. “We’ve had a number people call to volunteer. We’re scheduling 10 to have their water tested for trihalomethanes, or THMs.”
An outside independent company, Norlens Water Treatment from Orrington, will collect the water samples from inside the homes of the volunteers, who will be selected from areas all over town, and Nelson Analytical from Kennebunk will do the testing for the contaminants, the town manager said. The town has allocated up to $1,500 for all the testing.
“They’re hoping to start it this month,” Leonard said.
The plan, for now, is to do one round of testing in order to provide answers to residents, he said.
“It’s just an initial test,” Leonard said. “It may lead to further testing.”
BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report
Update: An earlier version of this story said the meeting was at Birch Street School. That was changed to the Orono High School’s cafeteria to accommodate the crowd expected.
An earlier version of this story reported that the meeting that was at Birch Street School was changed to the Orono High School’s gym. It is Orono High School's cafeteria.