Officials issue correction in water quality report

Flawed document showed contaminants in supply

Carroll County

July 02, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

County officials are reassuring South Carroll residents that the Freedom water supply is free of contaminants, after a clerical error in the annual water quality report cited unacceptable levels of mercury and other chemicals.

Carroll's annual Consumer Confidence Report, which provides data on the health of the public water supply, went to 7,800 homes throughout the county last month with critical errors. The errors occurred only in the brochures mailed to the Freedom Area, which includes all of South Carroll.

Because of a misplaced decimal point in the report on the Freedom District system - the largest of Carroll's four public water systems, serving nearly 20,000 people - it looked as though detectable levels of known carcinogens were present in the public drinking water, when no such danger existed.

The flawed document should have read .0005 parts per billion of mercury - an element that can enter the water supply from landfill and farm runoffs - and two other contaminants, an amount so negligible that it poses no threat to public health. Instead, the report reads .5 parts per billion. The maximum contaminant level allowed by the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency is .002 parts per billion.

The report repeated the same error when listing levels of picloram and simazine - synthetic organic contaminants from herbicide runoff. Levels detected should have read .0005 parts per billion for all three elements, as the highest amount detected during samplings taken several times throughout the year.

Data on radon, an inert gas, were "inadvertently included in the report," county officials said in a news release issued Friday on the errors. The EPA is not expected to issue guidelines on radon testing until next year.

"It is just unfortunate that this mistake was not caught," said Ann Baugher, an administrative associate in Carroll's public works department who has compiled the report without error for the past four years. "The report was read and reread and reviewed by the state."

A few residents e-mailed or phoned the county's public works staff, who readily assured everyone that the drinking water is safe.

"We are telling citizens not to be alarmed," Baugher said. "We pull samples every month and the results are certified by the state and by independent labs."

Testing continues throughout the year on the county's water systems at Pleasant Valley, Bark Hill, Bramble Hills and at Freedom. The Freedom Water Treatment Plant in South Carroll draws as much as 3 million gallons a day from Liberty Reservoir.

The report, which cost $2,700 to print and several hundred dollars more to mail, will not be reissued. Instead, the county has posted the revised report on its Web site, www.ccgov.carr. org/utility. Copies are available at all branches of the Carroll County Public Library.

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