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The Daily



06-19-03: Water problem leads to lawsuit

The Daily Standard
    Having high levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) in drinking water is not only a problem for Celina, but also for a city in Virginia, where residents have filed a lawsuit.
    The July issue of Parents magazine reports that a group of 214 women has sued Chesapeake, Va., for failing to tell residents the drinking water contained high levels of THMs, which they believe caused them to have miscarriages.
    Attorney Mike Jones filed suit in 2001 against the city of Chesapeake, population 200,000, for maintaining levels of THMs as much as seven times the legal standard, and failing to tell residents of the associated health risk through the 1980s and 1990s. This case is the first of its kind, the magazine says.
    The city of Celina also has battled high THM rates numerous times since the city was required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to start keeping track of the chemical in 1990, when the population went over 10,000.
    THMs are a byproduct of using chlorine to treat drinking water that starts out with high levels of organic material. Celina draws its water from Grand Lake St. Marys, which has high amounts of dead fish, leaves, algae and farm and residential runoff. Chesapeake draws from the Northwest River, which has high amounts of leaves, twigs and algae due to the surrounding swamp land.
    The federal EPA says there is a plausible risk that consuming THMs raises the risk of certain types of gastric cancers, other lower abdominal problems and damage to the nervous system.
    The EPA in 1998 lowered the acceptable limit for THMs in  water to a running annual average of 80 parts per billion (ppb), down from the 100 ppb limit set in 1979. In 2002, Celina's annual average for THMs was 189 ppb, with the high point at 280 ppb.
    In Chesapeake, the plaintiffs claim the levels have been as high as 700 ppb. Levels of THMs spike in the summer months, when organic activity is at its highest. Celina also see its highest THM rates in the summer.
    The Parents magazine article gives accounts of several women who had miscarriages mid-term. The women claim they had successful pregnancies after they stopped drinking the water in Chesapeake.
    The issue in Chesapeake came to light when city officials sought to have the EPA allowable amount of THMs suspended while a new membrane-filter water treatment plant was being built, the magazine reports. A local health official investigated the risk and began alerting residents to boil their water or buy bottled water. She told the magazine, "the idea of a lawsuit wasn't on my mind."
    Several studies have been done on the effects of THMs, and while some professionals are convinced the chemical could cause miscarriages, the scientific community is not entirely convinced.
    About one in six pregnancies end in miscarriage in the United States, and often local rates of miscarriages are not kept, the magazine states. The plaintiffs attorney used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain THM rates for 20 years and began running television advertisements seeking plaintiffs.
    The award sought has not been revealed and a trial date has not yet been set in the case, which could last for years.
    Celina was not required to test for THMs until 1990, and began notifying resident of the THM violations when they occurred a few years later. Because Celina has had repeated violations, the Ohio EPA issued a citation ordering the city to build a new treatment plant or provide for another permanent fix. The city also was issued a $20,000 fine that was negotiated to $10,000.
    Currently, wells are being dug one mile north of Celina to find a new source of water and tests are being run on a new type of filter on the existing treatment plant that may lower THMs. Celina has already spent more than $100,000 and the total bill could reach $10 million.


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The Standard Printing Company
P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822