Contamination traces, but Fitchburg water called safe

by Anna Burgess, originally posted on September 1, 2016


FITCHBURG — There’s something in the water in the city — but it’s not enough to cause concern, according to officials.

According to a notice distributed earlier this month by the Fitchburg Department of Public Works, city water in 2015 had traces of potentially harmful contaminants hexavalent chromium, strontium and chromium, but in such small amounts as to pose no risk to the public.

“Fitchburg residents should take away from this that their water is very safe,” Deputy Commissioner of Water Supply John Deline said. “The levels are so low that they shouldn’t be concerned.”

Hexavalent chromium, which the federal Environmental Protection Agency says can be dangerous above a level of 0.1 milligrams per liter, was found at levels less than 0.000001 milligrams per liter.

Strontium, which the EPA says should not be consumed at levels of more than 4.0 milligrams per liter over a lifetime, was found in Fitchburg water at a maximum of .038 milligrams per liter.

The third contaminant, chromium, has not been determined by the EPA to be dangerous even at high levels, and was found at very low levels.

Finding these minimal amounts of contaminants is “a good thing,” said Deline.

The city’s annual water quality report was released by the DPW in July, but the department sent a follow-up in August listing three “unregulated” contaminants — strontium, chromium, and hexavalent chromium — not listed in the previous report.

Deline said they weren’t testing regularly for these contaminants before this year, when the EPA told them to do so, along with seven other contaminants. The city found no trace of the seven other contaminants.

“That goes to show you how clean our water is,” Deline said.

Hexavalent chromium, a form of chromium usually created by industrial processes, is a known carcinogen, and Deline said there were traces of this contaminant in Fitchburg water, as well as in the water of 151 other Massachusetts communities.

Deline said, though, that not only were the levels of hexavalent chromium so small as to warrant no concern, but the contaminant was not found in the city reservoirs.

“It’s getting into the water somewhere in the distribution system,” he said.

They’re currently working to pinpoint where in the distribution system the contamination is occurring.

City water also had small amounts of strontium, but nowhere near concerning levels.

Water supplies in other parts of the country, like the Madison area of Wisconsin, have tested positive for strontium at levels well above the lifetime health advisory limit of 4.0 milligrams per liter. These levels could have a negative impact on bone and tooth health, especially during infancy and childhood, the EPA said in 2014. Essentially, strontium replaces calcium in bones.

According to a 2014 press release from the EPA, strontium was found in 99 percent of public water systems in the United States.

Deline said Fitchburg water has only the level of strontium expected to occur naturally.

“The city has spent a lot of money over the years to protect our watershed,” he said, “and we’re going to see the benefit in the long run.”

The water samples used for testing in 2015 were collected every three months beginning in March.

Deline said the DPW will post the August contaminant notice on its website.


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