RALEIGH, N.C. – A Raleigh neighborhood is using a community water supply tainted with a cancer-causing chemical.
It’s the latest case in a series of NBC-17 investigations into toxic water.
The Neuse Woods community near Poole and Barwell Roads is connected to a public water system operated by Charlotte-based CWS Systems, Inc.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources notified the company in February that it is in violation of water quality standards. Test results showed toxaphene levels exceeded the drinking water standard.
Before toxaphene was banned in the U.S. in 1990, it was used as a pesticide. The EPA classifies the chemical as a carcinogen that can cause cancer, liver, kidney and thyroid damage.
A spokeswoman for the Division of Water Resources says the company complied with protocol for notifying property owners.
In March, CWS sent a public notice to property owners to inform them of the problem.
Jerry Longmire who has lives in Neuse Woods for more than 20 years said Thursday he did not receive the public notice.
“Anybody would be concerned about its effects. Who knows about long term. You don’t know what it could do,” Longmire said Thursday.
Payge Barham and her daughter moved into a rental property in the neighborhood a few days ago. She was unaware of the water contamination and found out her landlord received the notice but failed to inform her.
“I mean I just feel like I should’ve known about it,” Barham said Wednesday.
Barham who is worried about the health effects the chemical might have on her two-year-old daughter says she is going to rely on bottled water until CWS finds a solution.
“That is still a year from now that we have to bathe, wash dishes and clothes,” said Barham.
NBC-17 talked to other families in the neighborhood who don’t speak English. They said they received the notice from CWS Systems but were unable to read it.
The company’s 2008 test results for Neuse Woods was obtain by NBC-17 which show toxaphene contamination was on the radar back then.
Utilities Inc. owns CWS and responded to NBC-17 with the following statement on Thursday:
Neuse Woods customers were notified of levels of toxaphene above drinking water standards with a customer mailing on 3/15/2013. Test results we received on 2/14/2013 indicate one of the system’s two wells exceeded the 0.003 mg/l maximum contaminant level for toxaphene. Over the past year of sampling, the running annual average was 0.00363 mg/l. Compliance is based on a running annual average of four consecutive quarterly samples.
After evaluating several options, the best course of action for resolution has been determined to proceed with a treatment system to remove toxaphene. A consulting engineer has been authorized to proceed in designing a Granular Activated Charcoal filter system for the well. The resolution will require plan review and approval from the North Carolina Division of Water Resources. We are proceeding as quickly as possible and anticipate a resolution by 3/31/2014.
Sample collection and customer notices will continue on a quarterly basis until the resolution is completed.
According to the state and federal public notice guidelines which were mailed to the customers as required and included their recommended wording that “You do not need to use alterative (e.g. bottled) water supply. However, if you have specific health concerns, consult your doctor. This is not an immediate risk.”
Hope Taylor, Clean Water for North Carolina says the Neuse Woods case is an example of the need for stricter notification requirements. Taylor says Barham and others are evidence that federal laws requiring water supply companies to mail a notice to the property owner isn’t good enough.
“I think we all realize that a landlord often has a disincentive for notifying a renter. They don’t want to lose that renter and if the renter is dependent on water that they’ve been told is contaminated they may very well start looking for another location,” Taylor said Thursday.
Notificiation requirements are set by EPA. Taylor previously served on an advisory council that recommended policy changes to EPA. Taylor says she pushed for a more fail-proof way of notifying residents like mailing notices and placing door hangers in Spanish and English on the homes of residents. However, Taylor says those suggestions fell on deaf ears.
“That’s partly because many of the members of that council are actually drinking water utilities and they would’ve faced the additional effort and cost involved in that notification,” said Taylor.