Arsenic level in city drinking water remains above standards

Some 4,500 city of Cairo water customers will receive a letter next week notifying them that the level of arsenic contamination in the city’s drinking water supply remained above the maximum level allowed by state and federal regulations in both the third and fourth quarters of 2015.
A similar mass mailing was sent out to local water customers last October.
According to Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton, the city was recently notified that the results for the third and fourth quarter were above standards and an official “Notice of Violation” from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division and Watershed Protection Branch was received last week.
The second quarter results indicated the arsenic level at 11 parts per billion. Third quarter results were 10.65 ppb and the fourth quarter results were back up to 11 ppb. The maximum contaminant level is 10 ppb.
According to Addleton the EPD is combining both the third and fourth quarter results in a single notice of violation.
“Our corrective action is to complete the new water plant at the airport by the end of this year, which will include arsenic treatment. Most likely we will also receive a consent order, but the state knows what we are doing. We have kept EPD and the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority in the loop and they know what we are doing to address the situation. We just need to get started and get the new plant built,” Addleton said.
Although the arsenic content exceeds the highest approved amount allowed under the Georgia Rules for Safe Drinking Water, information from the Georgia EPD states, “This is not an emergency. If it had been, you would have been notified within 24 hours. However, some people who drink water containing arsenic in excess of the MCL (maximum contaminant level) over many years could experience skin damage or problems with their circulatory system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.”
City leaders have known of the potential arsenic issue since approximately 2013, and started taking steps to protect residents.
For nearly three years, Cairo’s municipal water supply has undergone quarterly testing by the state to determine how much naturally occurring arsenic is seeping into the ground water supply. Although all public water systems test for arsenic, the frequency of testing depends on the water source and test results.
The council awarded a bid last month to Bates Engineers/Contractors, Inc., of Bainbridge to construct the new treatment plant at the airport at a cost of $4,180,843.
The project is being funded by a loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and city funds invested in the Municipal Competitive Trust.
Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas questioned what preparations are being made to add arsenic treatment capabilities to the city’s water treatment plant on MacIvor Drive.
“When the new plant comes on line, we need to do work at MacIvor. Is everything ready to begin work right away once we complete the plant at the airport?” Douglas asked.
The city manager said that a similar system to be installed at the airport would need to be put in place at the MacIvor plant.
“The council will need to decide if we go after another GEFA loan for the rehabilitation of that plant. Just the arsenic treatment component will be between $1 million and $1.5 million with the rest of the required work being approximately $500,000,” Addleton said.
“I think that is the only thing we can do,” Douglas responded.
Addle ton indicated he would obtain an engineer’s report to include with the loan application, which he will submit to GEFA.
“I just want to make sure we have a timeline in place so that as soon as we can take down the MacIvor plant, we can do what we need to do and not have to wait months to begin work,” Douglas said.
In October 2014, Cairo Mayor Bobby Burns executed GEFA loan documents for a $3,586,710 low interest loan from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund is a federal loan program administered by GEFA and provides Georgia communities with low-interest loans to fund water infrastructure projects.
GEFA has agreed to forgive $500,000 of the loan so the city will be paying 0.66 percent interest on $3,086,710 over the next 10 years.
The new treatment plant will be the first in Georgia to have the additional capacity to treat for naturally occurring arsenic found in city drinking water.
The city’s water source is located near the southern edge of the Gulf Trough, an area of the Floridan aquifer that contains elevated levels of arsenic.

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