The city of Peabody is making major upgrades to its two main water-treatment plants after test results showed the city’s system does not conform to tougher new Environmental Protection Agency drinking-water standards .
The Department of Environmental Protection has notified the city that there is no imminent health risk to the community .
City officials were notified in 2007 that the EPA was revising its testing for disinfection byproducts in drinking water, substances that can form when water is treated with chlorine, as Peabody’s drinking water is. These substances are called trihalomethanes.
The agency revisions, which took effect in 2012, mandated more rigorous testing, which is conducted every quarter. The results in Peabody meant that improvements to the Winona and Coolidge water-treatment facilities were required.
“Certainly, any issue when our numbers are not reaching standards is a concern for me as mayor,” said Mayor Edward Bettencourt. “But I do think this is on the right track and it will be handled on the right terms.”
In previous years, the EPA required the city to report a combined running annual average of all samples collected throughout the water distribution system. The revised testing requires water systems to meet “locational” running annual averages for total disinfection byproducts at each of the eight water-sampling sites throughout the city.
Test results from early June showed that levels of trihalomethanes were slightly elevated at four water-sampling locations. In March, results showed that levels were slightly higher at five locations, according to public notices.
“Our water has always been the same, but they [the EPA] changed the testing requirements and because of the recent change, we’ve had to make these corrections,” Bettencourt said. “I think we have it well in hand. The numbers have been improved since the last testing back in February.”
The City Council approved a $1 million bond authorization in January to perform the necessary changes to Peabody’s two main treatment facilities. The upgrades, which include the installation of a chloramination system, began in May and are set to wrap up in December, Bettencourt said.
A chloramination system uses chloramine, which is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia, to clean a city’s water supply, and produces a significantly lower amount of trihalomethanes, said Joe Ferson, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.
“It is essential that people disinfect their water supply, like Peabody, to remove bacteria,” Ferson said. “It’s not imminent danger, but they are in violation.”
Other communities are also working to move to chloramination because of the tighter regulations the federal government has adopted.
The EPA standard for trihalomethanes is 80 parts per billion. Peabody’s second-quarter results for the four locations that showed violations were: Proctor Street, 88 parts per billion; Sabino Farm Road, 91; Mount Pleasant Drive, 102; and Centennial Drive, 94.
Ferson added that the city is working with water consultants from the Weston and Sampson consulting firm to come up with other improvement measures to take between now and the completion of the project.
“We’ve started a very aggressive system flushing, which is opening the hydrants and getting out some of the organic materials that are reacting with the chlorine and causing’’ the trihalomethanes, said David Terenzoni, assistant director of the Public Services Department for the city. “We reduced the chlorine levels; we’re still maintaining the EPA standards. But we’ve knocked it down a bit so there isn’t as much chlorine residual in the pipes.”
In addition, the city will update the public by sending out informational notices once testing is completed.
The next water system test will be conducted in August.