CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Residents of the Upper Kanawha Valley town of Pratt have been drinking contaminated water for more than a year.
"The situation is entirely unacceptable," said Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy, who found out about the tainted water late last week.
Last week, Pratt residents received notices that the town's water supply contained levels of haloacetic acids that were above the maximum allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA officials permit a maximum of haloacetic acids of 60 parts per billion, but Kanawha County Engineer John Luoni said Pratt's levels averaged almost 66 parts per billion over the past year.
Haloacetic acids are a byproduct of the water chlorination process that can occur when chlorine used to treat water reacts with organic matter like decayed leaves or vegetation. Although there is limited research into the effects of haloacetic acids in human beings, the chemicals are believed to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
Long-term exposure to elevated amounts of haloacetic acids in humans may also lead to damage to the liver, kidneys, eyes, nervous system and reproductive system.
Pratt operates its own water plant, which draws water from the Kanawha River. Plant operator Steve Hopkins was not at the plant Monday, but Pratt Mayor Gary Fields said Hopkins has been addressing the problem and that acid levels in the town's water supply are declining.
"The chief operator has a plan," Fields said. "I hope we can get it straightened out. My main concern is the safety of the public."
But Hardy is worried about the elevated levels of acids in Pratt's water. Hardy said he found out about the water problem after his father -- a Pratt resident -- received the notice last week.
"I drank that water Father's Day at my father's house," Hardy said. "That water system serves an elementary school with 300-plus children."
Hardy said county officials are talking with officials at the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department about the possible health risks from Pratt's water.
Fields said Pratt supplies water to about 475 customers. West Virginia American Water Company supplies about 275 more in the Paint Creek area, but buys water from Pratt to serve Paint Creek.