RALEIGH, N.C. – State health officials are retracting a previous recommendation that advised people not to drink their water.
Last spring, DHHS sent letters to people in Lee County and other parts of the state who drink well water and live near coal ash ponds.
The letters advised them not to drink their water due to the levels of vanadium and hexavalent chromium found in some water samples.
The health department letters came as state environmental regulators at DEQ were assuring residents their water was safe.
Tom Reeder, the Department of Environmental Quality’s assistant secretary for the environment, admitted it created confusion.
Dr. Randall Williams, the state health director and a deputy secretary for health services at DHHS, says the letters were sent in abundance of caution.
Dr. Williams says, at the time, they believed there may have been a point source of contamination.
Duke Energy says its coal ash ponds are not responsible for the contaminants but supplied residents with bottled water.
Dr. Williams says the recommendation was made based on current state advisory levels for vanadium and hexavalent chromium.
The state currently has an Interim Maximum Acceptable Concentration, IMAC, for Vanadium at .3.
On March 1, DEQ recommended bringing that level up drastically to 20, which they say is more consistent with federal standards.
Reeder argued that many city water supplies don’t even meet that .3 standard, and the water is safe.
A review of regulations elsewhere showed that neither the federal government nor most other states have set standards specifically for hexavalent chromium, which is of concern because it may cause cancer, Dr. Williams said.
The exception is California, whose standard is 10, much higher than the state health department’s .07 health screening level.
However, North Carolina does have a groundwater standard for total chromium, that would include hexavalent chromium, set at 10ppb.
Williams says while they are retracting their recommendation, the screening levels will remain the same for now.
He says the EPA is planning on issuing new information on hexavalent chromium in December, and he believes that will eventually help change the current North Carolina health screening level.