Disinfection Byproducts Update – January 2022
On January 6, 2022, the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission (Commission) is notifying its customers of an exceedance of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for haloacetic acids (HAA5) in drinking water. Sample results taken on December 2, 2021, indicate that levels for HAA5 at the 8 sample locations exceeded the maximum contaminant level (MCL) established by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MassDEP) Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.
The MCL is 60 parts per billion (ppb) and is calculated as the average of the results from the past four quarters at an individual sample site. The Commission first experienced elevated HAA5 in September 2018, which led to the violation of the drinking water standard in successive quarters until December 2020. Quarterly sampling in 2020 and earlier in 2021 indicated a reduction in the HAA5 levels in the drinking water. HAA5 levels have since increased, due in part to significant rainfall in summer 2021, and annual reservoir turnover in fall 2021.
The exceedance was not an immediate health hazard and customers may continue consuming and using their water as normal. If this had been a public health emergency, customers would have been notified within 24 hours.
Solutions – January 2022 Update
The Commission has been actively working to reduce HAA5 in the drinking water since 2015, when it initiated a comprehensive planning process to upgrade the West Parish Filters Water Treatment Plant. While the Commission has regularly optimized existing plant processes to meet regulatory changes over the years, the plant’s last comprehensive upgrade was in 1974. Regulations related to HAA5 were first adopted in 1998 and revised in 2012.
As part of the planning process, a pilot study was completed in the fall of 2020 to determine the most effective treatment process to remove more dissolved NOM. Results from the pilot study are currently being used to design treatment plant upgrades necessary to ensure consistent water quality and regulatory compliance for disinfection byproducts, including HAA5. A panel of national experts convened by the Commission is guiding these activities.
After the design is approved by MassDEP, construction is anticipated to begin in FY24 at an estimated cost of $168 million. The project is being financed in part by a $250 million low-interest loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) Program. The unique and flexible terms of the WIFIA Program will allow the Commission to advance the plant upgrades on an accelerated schedule and address multiple pressing needs at once to reduce risk, improve water quality, strengthen climate resiliency, and ensure reliability well into the 21st century.
More information on the WIFIA Funding and the Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Renewal Program is available on the Commission’s website https://waterandsewer.org/wifia/.
HAA5 is an organic compound that forms when chlorine, which is used for disinfection, reacts with dissolved natural organic matter (NOM) found in surface water supplies, such as Cobble Mountain Reservoir. Therefore HAA5 is considered a “disinfection byproduct.”
Dissolved NOM enters the reservoir from rain and snow melt from the surrounding forest. Both the amount and types of NOM in the reservoir impact the levels of HAA5 in the treated water. The issue of elevated HAA5 first arose in late 2018 when above-average rainfall in increased the amount of dissolved NOM in the reservoir water by approximately 50%.
The graphic below summarizes how HAA5 forms:
Some studies have shown that long-term exposure to HAA5 at elevated levels above the regulatory limit over many years (i.e. decades or a lifetime) may increase the risk of developing health problems. The Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) is set at a level intended to maintain a large margin of protection against health effects.
More information about the potential health risks of HAA5 is available from MassDEP, which regulates drinking water quality, at 617-292-5770 or at https://www.mass.gov/service-details/haa5-in-drinking-water-information-for-consumers.
Additional information on why HAA5 is regulated is discussed by UMass Professor Dr. David Reckow, a national expert on disinfection byproducts, on Connecting Point (Feb. 12, 2019): See the video
Chlorine has been used in drinking water since the early 1900s to prevent waterborne illness caused by pathogens (bacteria) such as cholera, typhoid, and E. coli. Such pathogens are considered the most widespread and immediate risk to public health associated with drinking water. Treatment with chlorine also eliminates viruses such as the coronavirus. Chlorine dosage levels are traditionally higher in summer months due to increased water temperatures that promote bacteria growth.
The regulatory limit for HAA5 is set at a level that balances the immediate health risk presented by waterborne pathogens, and the potential health risks presented by HAA5 after long-term (decades or a lifetime) exposure to elevated levels. While the Commission is committed to complying with all drinking water regulations, preventing the immediate health risk of waterborne illness through proper disinfection is its foremost priority.
The Commission does not advocate the need to purchase a home water filter to remove HAA5, and does not recommend any particular models or brands.
For customers that still wish to install a home treatment device, it is advised to thoroughly research whether the filter they choose performs as advertised. According to the American Water Works Association, some home filters can be used to reduce some chemical compounds that form due to chlorination, but not all. Customers should inquire if the device they choose is certified by an independent third party. NSF International, the Water Quality Association, and Underwriters Laboratories all certify home filter products.
Commission customers with questions about HAA5 should call 413-310-3501 or email email@example.com.
Presentation to Springfield City Council Health and Human Services Committee – January 30, 2019
SWSC HAA5 Public Information Session Presentation – April 22, 2019