Newdale is facing drinking water quality issues because of excessive arsenic and fluoride levels in the water supply, and that has become the focus of attention in the city.
Although there is an offer of assistance with loan money from the state of Idaho, there are concerns among residents that because of the small size of the city, the improvements needed will put a financial burden on water users.
But city officials are concerned about long-term health risks and potential penalties if the EPA standards aren’t met.
“We’re being required by DEQ (the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality) to improve water quality so we need to fix it,” said Newdale Mayor Shayne Hansen.
He said the city is considering several options from installing a filtration system to locating a new well with acceptable concentrations.
A public hearing was held Tuesday evening in Newdale on the subject and city officials presented proposals about what can be done to deal with the problem.
Although the levels of the two substances have been relatively constant in testing over the past several years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has raised the standard for arsenic and both substances are above their allowable levels for drinking water.
In January of 2006, citing concern over the potential effects of long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic in drinking water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reduced the drinking water standard for arsenic from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.
The EPA standard for fluoride is 4.0 milligrams per liter.
At the public hearing in Newdale on Tuesday, Winston Dyer, of The Dyer Group, made a presentation on the options available to the city.
Dyer is also Newdale’s city engineer.
He said testing over the past several years shows average arsenic levels at an average of 10.8 parts per billion and that the level has been as high as 15 parts per billion.
The city’s level of fluoride in the water supply has consistently averaged about 4.8 milligrams per liter over the last several years, Dyer stated.
The presentation indicates that the state DEQ has ranked Newdale as the first priority in the state for drinking water improvements.
The department has offered the city a $1.2 million loan for 20 years at 1.75 percent interest. In addition, the department would agree to forgive $600,000 of the loan.
The proposed water project would consist of several elements.
It would include a centralized water treatment plant to remove arsenic and fluoride from the water supply and the addition of a second water storage reservoir to provide an adequate water supply for fire fighting and increase daily flow capacity. The plan would update existing well pumps for improved condition and efficiency and an emergency generator would also be installed to power the backup well.
Dyer recommended that the city move forward on the project with “judicial confirmation,” a speedier process than setting a bond election.
He stated that the DEQ funding that is available comes from the recent federal stimulus package and must be used quickly or it could be lost to other government entities that are ready to proceed with their improvements.
He said the city’s water system has not seen an upgrade for about 16 years and said the recommendations will improve the system to function well for the next 20 years.
Although several residents of the city who were interviewed say they recognize the need for the improvements, they are concerned about its scope and cost.
“The bad thing about it is the amount of money they’re putting on a town this size,” said Doug Gibson.
He said every resident wants clean water and Newdale wants to comply with the regulations. He said he has confidence in city officials to meet the state and federal requirements.
“We’re kind of leaving it up to the city board to see what we can come up with,” he said. “There are people in town who can’t pay $100 for water and sewer. My deal is that the government shouldn’t be able to mandate something and then fine us if we can’t do it.”
Finding an alternative to a treatment system was also mentioned.
“It’s too bad we couldn’t find a well that was lower (in contaminants),” said Ken Lent.
Steve Reish said he has questions about the amount of water needed for firefighting, but the main concern he shared was about the costs.
“The water situation definitely needs to be addressed,” he said. “I think it needs to be researched a little deeper and more questions asked of higher authority. … A lot of these people here are on a fixed income and it’s going to be really rough on them. We’re such a small community there’s not that many pockets to draw from.”
The city will take written comments for consideration until its next meeting, scheduled for June 26.
To give written comment on the plan, the mailing address is: City Of Newdale, P.O. Box 70, Newdale, ID 83436 or use the city’s drop box by the Post Office.
What is Arsenic?
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in the earth’s crust that is found most everywhere. It occurs naturally in rocks and soil, water, air, and plants and animals. There are trace amounts of it in all living matter.
Approximately 90 percent of industrial arsenic in the U.S. is used as a wood preservative. Arsenic is a well-known poison used in the manufacture of agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, weed killers and rodenticides. It is also used in the production of paints, dyes, metals, drugs, soaps and semi-conductors.
Arsenic can be released into the environment through natural activities such as volcanic action, erosion of rocks, and forest fires, or through human activities such as pesticide application, improper disposal of arsenic-containing waste chemicals, agricultural applications, mining and smelting.
How does arsenic get into drinking water?
Most arsenic in drinking water comes from natural rock formations. Water that encounters rock formations can dissolve arsenic and carry it into underground aquifers, streams and rivers that may be used as drinking water supplies. Arsenic deposited on the ground from industrial or agricultural uses tends to remain in the top few feet of soil for a long time and is not likely to have a significant impact on most aquifers. When dissolved in water, arsenic has no smell, taste or color, even at high concentrations.
What are the health risks of water above the new arsenic level?
Arsenic in drinking water, soil, air and food does pose health risks. Although a very high dose (60,000 micrograms) of arsenic can be lethal, the amount of arsenic in drinking water is very small by comparison and any health effects are the result of prolonged exposure over a period of years.
The more your customers are exposed to arsenic over time, the higher the risk becomes for experiencing health effects. Different people may have different responses to the same exposure to arsenic, depending on dose, duration, general health, age and other factors, so there is no way to know exactly what may happen in any given case. Reducing the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water will lessen your customers’ exposure and reduce risk of adverse health effects.
What is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a naturally occurring compound derived from fluorine, the 13th most abundant element on Earth. It is found in many rocks and minerals in the soil and enters drinking water as water passes through these soils. Fluoride is present naturally in almost all foods and beverages including water, but levels can vary widely. Very few public water systems in Idaho add fluoride to the drinking water in a process known as fluoridation.
Why is fluoride in drinking water regulated?
Fluoride has been shown to prevent tooth decay, but too much fluoride at an early age while the teeth are forming can cause discoloration and pitting of the teeth. This condition is known as dental fluorosis. Overexposure to fluoride over a lifetime can lead to certain types of bone disease.
How much fluoride is too much?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a Maximum Contaminant Level for fluoride of 4.0 mg/L for drinking water for public water systems. This means that some people who regularly consume water above this level can experience bone disease. EPA has also set a secondary standard of 2.0 mg/L. Children who regularly consume water above this level may experience dental fluorosis, ranging from white flecks in the mildest forms to brown stains and pitting in the most severe forms.
EPA recommends that children under nine years old not consume water with fluoride concentrations higher than 2.0 mg/L on a regular basis. Your dentist can help you decide how much fluoride you and your family need.
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