Bethlehem’s water filtration plan on Clapper Road. Spotlight file photo
BETHLEHEM — Water filtration fixes to address cancer-causing chemicals are set for a 2019 completion date.
Upgrades to the Clapper Road water treatment plant designed to address elevated rates of trihalomethane (THM), a chemical linked to cancer, were outlined by Department of Public Works (DPW) Commissioner George Kansas at the Wednesday, March 9, meeting of Town Board.
Only decades of prolonged exposure results in elevated health risks, explained Kansas, and the chemical poses no immediate health risks.
“Since 2013, the town has been in violation of DEC regulated limits on THM at various testing locations,” he explained – a fact the town has been open about. And due to water treatment facility upgrades made that same year, “system-wide overall THM levels have been decreasing in the past few years, and we’re only aiming to do better.”
Yet, with water crisis happening across the country, water quality concerns are at an all-time high.
“My problem is what is coming into my bowling center, into our day care centers, into the produce aisle is not a good thing right now,” said Marvin Sans, owner of Del Lanes bowling alley on Delaware Avenue in Delmar.
The town has made efforts to fix the problem, he admitted, but “whatever you’re doing is not working,” he said.
“Over the long haul I don’t know if this thing causes cancer. No one in my family has ever had cancer, and in 2003 I did, and I’ve been there since 1974. So, I would just like to know what we can do in my area to fix the problem,” concluded Sans.
At both Wemple Road and Delaware Avenue, water quality concerns stem from situations where water is allowed to stay stagnant in pipes for long periods of time, allowing chemical compounds to build up.
“Your area back there is one of the main trouble spots and not THMs,” said Kansas to Sans. “Basically, you have a dead end main,” which will require a new pipe network with more loops, allowing greater water flow. “We tried flushing the hydrants, looked at automatic flushing valves on a timer, but even then it’s a question of will it be enough, so really is an issue of improving the piping back there because it is a dead end,” said Kansas.
THMs are disinfection byproducts created when chlorine (a disinfectant used in 70 percent of municipalities) interacts with organic materials, like leaves and algae. Over $10 million will be paid over the next 30 years to make upgrades to the town’s water system, addressing a number of issues, including THMs.
Since the 1970s, when the health risk of THMs was discovered, DEC has been reducing amounts allowed in systems. Levels were previously tested based on a system-wide average.
But, when stricter guidelines were introduced in 2013, two of four testing sites were over the limit for roughly six months, as the New Salem water plant upgrades, made in that same year, took effect.
The Wemple Road sampling site, meanwhile, has been over the limit on THMs for the past three years.
“I cannot stress this enough. This is not the same situation that you’re hearing about in Hoosick Falls, in Flint, Michigan,” said DPW Commissioner Kansas. “One was an industrial pollutant, and the other was due to decaying lead pipes. Most all water systems have THMs have some level, and they do not pose any immediate health risks.”
To address the problem, Kansas said his department is “already flushing the system for overall water quality, improving hydraulic water monitoring and valve operations” in addition to improvements at the two treatment plants.
“Both our facilities are getting old,” said Kansas. “Our New Salem facility was built in the 1950s and Clapper Road was built in the 1990s. Most mechanical systems you bank on a 20-year, 30-year life so even that’s getting relatively old for a treatment plant.”
Planning for Clapper Road improvements began in 2010, were delayed in 2011 due to cost of repair for Hurricane Irene devastation, capital commitments were made in 2012 and the design phase is underway, and construction will begin next year. Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2019.
“We’re looking at other options, quick fixes – we are not putting all our eggs in one basket and are continuing to look this issue,” said Kansas on THMs.