ORONO, Maine — The level of one potentially harmful chemical in the town’s water supply has gone down, but another has edged up.
The level of haloacetic acids exceeded acceptable limits in a recent test but still is in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards because the number is averaged over the last four quarters, according to Orono-Veazie Water District Superintendent Dennis Cross.
The test results and other community concerns about water quality were discussed at a town council meeting Wednesday night.
The level of haloacetic acids, known as HAA5, was tallied at 61 parts per billion during the June 11 test at the Memorial Union on the University of Maine campus collected by the Orono-Veazie Water District.
The EPA’s limit is 60 ppb for HAA5, which includes monochloroacetic acid, dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid, monobromoacetic acid and dibromoacetic acid.
“That test is a high level for us,” Cross said Monday, the day he received written questions sent to him by town council members who got them from concerned residents.
The Orono Town Council hosted a committee meeting Wednesday to get answers from the water district board regarding water quality questions.
The test results state the HAA5 level is in “compliance” because, “We do it [calculate the quarterly data] on an annual running average,” Cross said.
Haloacetic acids are a group of chemicals that are formed along with other disinfection byproducts, such as trihalomethanes or THMs, when chlorine or other disinfectants used to control microbial contaminants in drinking water react with naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter in water, according to the EPA.
The EPA says people who drink water with higher than allowable levels of THMs or HAA5 over many years may have an increased risk of cancer.
Why Orono’s HAA5 level was high in June is something the water superintendent couldn’t answer.
The Orono-Veazie Water District exceeded the EPA’s annual average 80 parts per billion limit for THMs in 2012 and took a dozen steps to reduce levels last year. The federal consent order was lifted in February after the 2013 THM levels were released and the average was 76 parts per billion. The June test showed a THM level of 55.9.
Even so, some residents are still concerned about safety issues with drinking and bathing in the town’s water.
The water district already gained approval for a nearly $300,000 loan from the Maine Drinking Water Program to test and purchase land for a new well. Negotiations for the land are underway but there are a lot of steps to be done beforehand, including testing for quality and volume, Cross said.
Orono has four drilled wells in a field north of 116 Bennoch Road that are just down the road from Old Town’s three public wells, which are located near the junction of Bennoch Road and Spring Street.
When compared to Orono, “we have fewer organic components,” which is why Old Town’s THM levels are considerably lower, Frank Kearney Sr., Old Town Water District superintendent, said Tuesday.
Organic components include items such as decaying leaves, algae, and human or animal waste.
Orono’s wells are closer to the river, the town has more dead-end roads that don’t allow the water to circulate, and when the chlorine is added in the treatment process are the big differences between the two water supply systems, he said.
Old Town injects chlorine into the water about 10 minutes before it is filtered, which works for that community, but not for all, he said.
“Longer disinfection time often leads to higher THMs,” Kearney said. “There is no easy answer.”
The water from all four of Orono’s wells is filtered and then treated with chlorine to protect against bacteriological contaminants, fluoride is added to promote dental health, and sodium hydroxide to reduce lead solubility, the Orono Veazie Water District’s website states.
Some of the questions asked by residents concerned a well drilled in 2010 that was completed in 2011. Some letter writers asked why the “$1 million well” was abandoned.
“We did not spend a million dollars drilling that well,” Cross said. “We did a plant upgrade in 2010, which included drilling an addition well. We did not abandon that well.”
The cost of the plant upgrade wasn’t immediately available.
“The biggest reason we drilled it was for redundancy,” he said. “We don’t use all four of our wells at the same time. We wanted an additional well to use when we’re doing maintenance on the others.”
Residents also wanted to know about the possibility of building a new water filtering or treatment plant.
“There is a process that you could do to remove some of the organics in our source water but it’s expensive,” Cross said. “It’s not only expensive to construct, but it’s also expensive to operate.”
“If we can locate a local source of water that [contains less] organics … that would solve the problem,” he said.