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Some MAWC water customers warned of potential health risks, but no corrective measures required

Tribune-Review - 11/16/2022

Nov. 17—Notifications were sent out Wednesday to more than 50,000 Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County customers who live south of Route 30 about a potential hazard caused by a high level of a chemical used to clean drinking water.

Officials said tests at the Indian Creek Water Treatment Plant near Connellsville found excessive levels of haloacetic acid, a chemical formed as a byproduct when chlorine is added to the water. It's added to break down organic material such as leaf fragments, sediment, animal waste and other substances in the Youghiogheny River, one of two sources of drinking water for the authority.

"There are no immediate health risks," said authority manager Michael Kukura.

Residents are not required to take corrective measures such as boiling of water before use, officials said.

According to the state's Department of Environmental Protection, prolonged exposure to high levels of haloacetic acid can cause cancer and be a potential health risk to pregnant woman.

Dr. Tasha Stoiber, senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group based in Washington, D.C., said the presence of haloacetic acid and other byproducts of disinfecting processes are common in drinking water.

"We absolutely have to disinfect drinking water," Stoiber said. "This needs to happen or a lot of people will get sick."

She confirmed that increased levels of the chemical, in the short term, could be a potential health risk to pregnant woman and suggested the current legal limit of haloacetic acid is about 600 times too high.

Water customers can take precautions, she said.

"Even a simple carbon filter will filter these out of water," Stoiber said.

The authority has more than 122,000 water customers in five counties, Allegheny, Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana and Westmoreland. Nearly half of that customer base gets water from the Indian Creek treatment plant.

Increased chemical levels that exceeded the standards set by state and federal environmental officials were found during routine tests conducted in late October. The guidelines are based on testing averages, and the October results moved the average levels above the safe level, Kukura said.

Kukura said the authority has since flushed the water treatment system and subsequent tests found the chemical levels fell to below acceptable standards.

But the warning is required to remain in place for the next three months.

Federal guidelines say haloacetic acid levels above 60 parts per billion merit the environmental and health warning. The chemical levels found at the Sweeney treatment plant reached 65 parts per billion.

Kukura said the recent stretch of unseasonably warmer temperatures mixed with the authority's use of chlorine during the fall and winter likely contributed to the increased levels of the chemical.

Starting Dec. 1, the authority is switching to its spring and summer treatment system using a combination of chlorine and ammonia to clean the water in an effort to ensure levels remain at or below acceptable levels.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich by email at or via Twitter .


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