In 2013 City of Frederick tap water violated federal health standards for carcinogenic chlorination byproducts. Three of the 8 official sampling sites had contaminant levels above what is considered safe for drinking. This health hazard is a result of polluted source water (streams, rivers, lake); it is not due to any deficiency on the part of the Frederick City water treatment. Frederick County has a history of polluted surface water, Frederick City has a history of tap water contamination from the chemicals used to clean the polluted water. The two are naturally linked.
A review of tap water test results submitted to the State of Maryland by Frederick City reveal widespread contamination of city tap water with dangerous levels of chlorination by-products. During the water treatment process chlorine mixes with organic material in the water (soil/sediment) and forms disinfectant byproducts (DBPs) that are known to cause adverse health effectsand are regulated as carcinogens. Two of the most well-studied DBPs, Trihalomethanes (THMs) and Haloacetic Acids (HAAs) are found in Frederick City’s drinking water posing a potential health risk to Frederick City residents. The Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for safe drinking water established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 80 parts per billion (ppb) for THMs and 60 ppb for HAAs. Read full report here.
Results from a Public Information Act request to the Maryland Department of the Environment for Frederick City water sampling data between 2011-2014 revealed that:
- 22% of the 83 samples collected had greater than the 60 ppb safe drinking water standard (MCL) for HAA
- 8 % of the 83 samples collected had greater than the 80 ppb safe drinking water standard (MCL) for THM.
- 42% of the 83 samples collected had greater than 40 ppb HAA, which is below the MCL yet still in the range associated with health risks like small for gestational age babies when exposed during 3rd trimester
- 11 % of the 83 samples collected had greater than 60 ppb THM, which is below the MCL yet still in the range associated with health risks like birth defects, bladder cancer, stillbirth and small for gestational age babies
These contaminants are the result of organic material in the water reacting with chlorine products used to treat it. The higher the levels of organic pollution in the source water the more difficult it is to treat, and the higher the levels of chlorinated bi-products that are typically found in treated tap water
Lake Linganore and Lower Linganore Creek provide 42.4% of the total surface water sourced for Frederick City’s drinking water . Current erosion levels at the Lake are 5 times the state standard, clearly contributing to Frederick city’s tap water contamination problem. In 2007 the Gardner Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) strengthened the county’s protective stream buffer ordinance so that it reflected the scientific recommendations to protect our source waters, streams and wetlands. In 2013 the Young BOCC reversed that and weakened the county’s protective stream buffer ordinance substantially. Moreover the Young BOCC has approved rezoning 1346 acres for residential development in the Lower Linganore Creek drainage, with 913 additional acres on the agenda for approval this summer. Minimizing stream protection and adding additional pollution to Frederick City’s source water will make a problem that is already five times worse than it should be – even worse for the City. And, we should expect higher levels of these carcinogenic treatment by-products in Frederick City water.
It is worth noting that the safe drinking water standard (MCL) is based on an annual average; Frederick water violated this limit at 3 of 8 sampling sites in 2013. But shorter-term, legal spikes above the MCL, like those mentioned above, may also be associated with serious health consequences, especially during pregnancy. The given percentages above don’t mean illegally high levels, however the spikes, which may be short-term and legal, could still be harmful.