The Milford Water Company and state environmental officials outlined specific ways they are trying to improve drinking water quality in Milford, in a meeting with town officials Thursday.
But their comments on efforts that have yet to translate in to clear, contaminant-free water frustrated and angered several residents who attended.
For the past three quarters, the private utility company has had to inform its customers that it has exceeded permissable levels for Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs), a contaminant that forms when drinking water is disinfected with chlorine. In addition, the company had a wave of complaints in June and July, following the release of sediment in pipes, which left many customers with brown water and gritty sediment.
Company officials, and those with the Department of Environmental Protection — which regulates public drinking water suppliers — said a variety of steps are being taken to improve the water quality. Among them:
- The state DEP is now conducting full, field inspections of the Water Company systems every two months, as opposed to once every three years.
- The DEP has told the company to investigate a 30 to 90 day solution that could reduce disinfectant-related contaminants in the water, such as installing a layer of carbon filter between existing layers of sand that now act as a first filter for groundwater. This so-called "carbon sandwich" has had promising results in a town in Maine with a similar problem.
- The Water Company is flushing more hydrants to help dislodge sediment from pipes.
- The company has taken steps, including lowering water tank levels, that would reduce the age of the water, which has also contributed to contaminants.
- A new water treatment plant, what officials say is the ultimate solution, is in the planning stages and is not scheduled to be up and running until May 2013. But Martin Suuberg, central regional director for the DEP, said no extensions will be granted on that deadline.
The nearly two-hour meeting drew about a dozen residents, many of whom asked specific questions about contaminant levels, and their effects on small children. One resident cited statistics on inhaled contaminants, and asked what impact the water would have on children with asthma who are often put in bathrooms to inhale shower steam.
Given the timeframe for a new plant, and the recent chain of events, some residents accused the state DEP of not doing enough to protect residents, by taking immediate enforcement action.
Water Company officials, meanwhile, were criticized for their communication with residents and town officials, for their seemingly slow pace in making improvements to the system, for admissions that they failed to take the required number of water quality samples last year, and for not offering to reimburse residents who feel they have no choice but to purchase bottled water.
Eleanor Blake, a resident of South Main Street, pointed out that notifications of contaminants are going to the customers — who may be the property owners — and not necessarily the tenants. When she called to ask about the grit she saw in the water. "I was told it was safe to drink — because it's been treated."
Jennifer DeManche-Yohn, a mother of a baby, has purchased her own water for drinking and bathing since she realized — from her own research — that water contaminants can be absorbed more easily through the skin. "For the last nine months, I've been giving my kid a bath, and I shouldn't have been," she said. "I have a 9-month-old child who has been ingesting this, because I didn't know."
DeManche-Yohn estimates she spends about $2 to $3 a day buying bottled water. She recently asked the company if she would be reimbursed, but got no response.