Water from wells near Dalton Utilities Looper’s Bend wastewater treatment facility is largely free from the industrial chemicals perflouroctanoic acid (PFOA) and perflouroctane sulfonate (PFOS), according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
PFOA and PFOS are related chemicals that have been used in a large variety of industrial processes for decades. They are used to make waterproof clothing, for instance, and are a byproduct of the processes once used to make carpet stain resistant.
Exposure to large amounts of the chemicals over a long period of time has been shown to cause developmental problems and tumors in animals. Their impact on humans is less clear, but an EPA panel has described them as likely carcinogens.
In a conference call Thursday organized by the agency, EPA officials said the 110 wells within a one-mile radius of the facility, which applies treated wastewater to land near the Conasauga River, have been sampled. Testing has been completed on 108 of those wells.
PFOA and PFOS were not found in 94 of those wells. Thirteen wells have levels of the chemicals below federal guidelines, and one well had PFOS “slightly above EPA’s provisional health advisory,” according to a statement read during the call.
Officials said Dalton Utilities has volunteered to provide bottled drinking water to the owner of that well until a permanent source of water can be found.
Officials said that all people probably have some level of the chemicals in their blood because they are so prevalent.
In January 2009, the EPA created a health advisory standard for PFOA and PFOS of four-tenths of one part per billion of a sample for PFOA and two-tenths of one part per billion for PFOS.
Dalton Utilities drinking water was tested earlier this year, and the chemicals were not found in it. But the EPA said the chemicals were found in soil, sludge, groundwater and compost at the Looper’s Bend facility as well as the Conasauga River and Holly Creek. That’s why they asked for the wells around the site to be tested.
Gail Mitchell, deputy director of the EPA’s water division, said the chemicals are not regulated at this time by either the state or federal government, that Dalton Utilities has not been previously asked to monitor them and that the utility has not violated any regulations or permit conditions. Mitchell said the utility has cooperated fully the EPA as well as state agencies.
EPA has not created standards for groundwater, soils or compost. But Dalton Utilities ceased sales of the compost created at Looper’s Bend after testing found the chemicals in it. Dalton Utilities is currently testing sites where the compost has been used to see if the chemicals may find their way into nearby wells.
Officials said the University of Georgia and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division are testing fish and mussels from the Conasauga River to see if they have been affected by the chemicals, and Dalton Utilities will be testing wildlife on the 9,800-acre facility to see if the chemicals have had any impact on them. The utility will also continue to monitor those wells near the Looper’s Bend plant to make sure the levels are PFOA and PFOS do not increase.
Dalton Utilities president Don Cope said the testing shows the land application system is working as intended.
“Those components of the waste steam are contained within the boundaries of that system. The Conasauga River and Holly Creek did not show levels in excess of the health advisory. The drinking water wells on the exterior of the land application show by and large no detectable levels (of the chemicals),” he said.
Cope also noted that the amounts of the two chemicals in the raw wastewater coming into Dalton Utilities system are very minute — below the drinking water standards — indicating the carpet industry has significantly stopped entirely its use of PFOA and PFOS. The Carpet and Rug Institute has said the industry has been moving away from processes that involve the chemicals.
Cope said the chemicals that have been detected are probably trace amounts from previous use leaching off the pipe walls that will drop over time. But he said that the utility and state agencies will be testing its industrial customers to see if they are still using the chemicals and decide what to do with those who are.