Information and Frequently Asked Questions about HAA5
Information and Frequently Asked Questions about HAA5

What is this notification?

On October 6, 2020, the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission issued a Tier 2 Public Notification about an exceedance of the regulatory limit, also known as the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), for haloacetic acid 5 (HAA5). This public notification is based on sample results from September 2020, and follows seven previous quarterly public notifications (see archive here).

All customer addresses in Springfield and Ludlow will receive a copy of the public notification in their bills.

This incident was not a public health emergency, but all of our customers were informed in the interest of transparency and in accordance with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MassDEP) Drinking Water Program and EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act.

What should I do?

There is no immediate public health concern. If there had been, you would have been informed within 24 hours.

There is nothing you need to do.  You may continue to consume and use your water as normal.

You do not need to drink bottled water.

You do not need to boil the water. (Boiling the water will have no effect on HAA5, as it is not a microorganism.)

Why is HAA5 regulated?

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 MCL is set at a level intended to maintain a large margin of protection against health effects.

People with severe or acute health vulnerabilities or conditions should direct specific health questions to their healthcare provider. More information about the potential health risks of HAA5 is also 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

Should I install a filter to remove HAA5?

No, you may consume and use your water as normal. 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

Why does this keep happening?

HAA5 forms when chlorine reacts with dissolved natural organic matter (NOM) found in surface water supplies, such as Cobble Mountain Reservoir. 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. This issue first arose when above-average rainfall in late 2018 increased the amount of dissolved NOM in the reservoir water by approximately 50%.

Based on detailed raw water quality and treated water quality data obtained through the pilot plant and analyzed by the Commission as well as a panel of national experts, the amount and type of NOM in the reservoir continues to fluctuate. Recent data indicate that dissolved NOM levels have decreased from previously elevated levels.  Data continues to be analyzed to determine the connection between these fluctuations and HAA5 levels in the treated water.

The graphic below summarizes how HAA5 forms:

How long will this continue?

The Commission expects exceedances of the HAA5 regulatory limit to persist through the rest 2020. This is in part because the regulatory limit for HAA5 is calculated as a running annual average. Previous elevated results from earlier in 2020 will thus factor into future compliance calculations. To calculate compliance, quarterly samples taken at the same location over the last 12 months are averaged together to determine if HAA5 levels are above or below the regulatory limit of 60 parts per billion (ppb).

The Commission samples for HAA5 on a quarterly basis. The next round of sampling will be completed in December 2020. Customers will be notified if there is an exceedance of the HAA5 MCL at any sample location in any given quarter.

Why is chlorine added to drinking water?

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 long-term 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, protecting the immediate public health and safety of its customers by preventing waterborne illness through proper disinfection is its foremost priority.

What if I live near one of the elevated sample locations?

The public notice is relevant to all retail customers in Springfield and Ludlow. HAA5 levels can fluctuate throughout the distribution system and being closer to/farther from a sample station with elevated levels does not increase/decrease risk.

What is the Commission doing to resolve the problem?

Adjusting Treatment Processes:  To address the HAA5 exceedance the Commission has optimized its treatment processes to limit the formation of HAA5 as much as possible. These include adjustments to coagulants, filtration processes, chlorination application, water storage time, and the implementation of system flushing.

Planning New Treatment Upgrades:  A comprehensive plan for modernization upgrades to the water treatment plant has already been underway since 2015, in part due to the potential for this issue. Treatment upgrades that will more effectively remove NOM will be identified and designed through this planning process. These potential upgrades include:

  • Dissolved Air Floatation (DAF) Clarification Process or Pre-Oxidation Treatment – to more effectively remove suspended particles and dissolved NOM prior to filtration
  • Rapid Sand Filter Upgrades – to more effectively capture and filter out dissolved NOM
  • New Electrical System – to support new treatment processes
  • New Chemical Storage and Feed Building – to support new treatment processes

Pilot Testing New Treatment Processes: Pilot testing of the above potential treatment methods, which are taking place in an isolated model using water from Cobble Reservoir, is ongoing into this fall. Results from the pilot study will inform the necessary upgrades to make to the treatment plant to address long-term water quality issues, including HAA5. To date, results of the pilot study indicate potential benefits from utilizing an alternate coagulant that is more effective at removing NOM. With the approval of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), a full-scale plant trial of this promising alternative is planned for early winter 2020. If successful, this treatment change would result in water quality improvements in 2021.

In addition to the full-scale plant trial, the Commission is also advancing significant plant upgrades. The results of the pilot testing will determine which upgrades will be constructed. Construction will commence following design and regulatory approval by MassDEP. Construction costs for plant upgrades are estimated at $86 million. (See video of the pilot plant in action in the WGBY Connecting Point story from November 2019.)

An exterior view of the pilot plant installed at West Parish Filters, Fall 2019.
An interior view of the pilot plant installed at West Parish Filters, Fall 2019.

Enhancing Raw Water Sampling: The Commission also started a detailed raw water sampling program in Cobble Mountain Reservoir in 2019 to better characterize the composition of dissolved natural organic matter in the water. This data will be used to further inform the treatment upgrades.

Please call Jaimye Bartak, Communications Manager, at 413-452-1302 or jaimye.bartak@waterandsewer.org if you have any questions about these planned upgrades.

What if I live in a community that purchases wholesale water from the Commission?

The water departments of Agawam, East Longmeadow, and Longmeadow purchase water on a wholesale basis from the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission. Those communities are responsible for sampling HAA5 in their distribution systems according to their own sample schedules, and notifying customers accordingly. Customers in those communities should contact their respective water departments with any questions about notifications they receive about HAA5:

Questions

Commission customers with questions about this public notification should call 413-310-3501 or email info@waterandsewer.org.

Additional Information

* Important:  The regulatory limit for HAA5 is set as an annual average level (known as the "LRAA") of 60 parts per billion (ppb). A single reading above 60 ppb does not constitute a regulatory violation or health hazard.