PCBs have been found for the first time in the village’s public water supply.
“The levels remain well below the New York state maximum contaminant level” of 500 parts per trillion, Mayor Ernest Martin noted, and therefore people can still drink the water. The state Department of Health confirmed that.
The PCBs were found in tests of village wells by the DOH, which was acting in association with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA is planning to start dredging PCB-contaminated sediment out of the river next spring.
The DOH tested a total of seven public water supplies in communities with drinking water linked to the Hudson, downriver from the Washington County capacitor factories where General Electric Co. legally discharged polychlorinated biphenyls into the river until the 1970s. DOH found PCBs in the water supplies of all of them, including Halfmoon and Waterford, which draw water directly from the river. But the levels in Halfmoon and Waterford were actually lower than in Stillwater, which gets its water from wells at the end of Ferry Lane, near the Hudson.
In Stillwater, the highest level of contamination found was 119 parts per trillion on May 30. The Health Department returned on June 26 for another round of testing, when the highest level found was 117 parts per trillion. Those tests were done on water after treatment, when it is ready to be released to people’s faucets. June 26 tests of the village’s five active wells found them all to be contaminated, but at lower levels than for the treated water. Results are not yet back from a July 17 round of testing.
DOH spokeswoman Claudia Hutton said the PCB levels in Stillwater may be higher than in Halfmoon and Waterford because the soil around the wells may be contaminated, or is acting to trap contaminants.
In Halfmoon, the highest PCB level found was 41 parts per trillion. In Waterford, the highest level found was 32 parts per trillion.
Only Rhinebeck, at 159 parts per trillion, had a higher finding than Stillwater. The highest finding in Green Island was 9 parts per trillion.
Martin and other local leaders in Stillwater are concerned that the water supply will be contaminated by the dredging. Prior tests of the wells by the village did not detect PCBs. The village water system also supplies part of the town of Stillwater.
Martin said he does not know the reason PCBs have been found, but suggested that the rainy weather and high river levels may be a factor, as may construction activity in the Fort Edward area connected to the dredging project, or a navigational project to widen the Champlain Canal channel.
However, David King, director of the EPA’s Hudson River field office, said he thought the contamination in the wells had been there previously, but was not picked up in prior testing done by the village because “their analysis was not as rigorous” as that adopted this year by DOH. The DOH detection limit was set very low, King said.
However, the private labs that tested the water for the village in January and in 1996 did use an EPA-approved protocol, EPA 508. DOH used EPA 508 and another testing method this year, and both methods found PCB contamination.
While Martin and other local leaders want the dredging project delayed until the Saratoga County water system is built out to Luther Forest next year, and Stillwater can link up to it, King said EPA is not willing to delay the dredging project to make that possible.
Under current EPA plans, there is no provision to link Stillwater to the Troy water system or another public supply in the event of contamination. The EPA is proposing to link Waterford and Halfmoon to the Troy water system.
King said a Stillwater link to Troy was not likely, but that EPA may be prepared to dredge the Mechanicville reservoir in the town of Stillwater to increase its capacity, and link the village up to the Mechanicville water system. Or, he said, the village’s water treatment could be upgraded. The DOH tests do appear to show, King said, “some kind of hydraulic connection between the river and the wells.”
Hutton said the EPA has not had a plan for Stillwater up to this point because it did not yet have the information about PCB contamination in the wells. She said she could not immediately say where DOH expects Stillwater to get its water from in the event that dredging worsens the well contamination. “Next move, EPA,” she said.
Stillwater Trustee John Basile said the village’s situation is worsened by its proximity to the Hudson PCB hot spots. There will be no time for it to react, he said, unlike communities further downriver which will get some warning of polluted water heading for their intakes.
The village will hold an informational meeting on these issues at 7 p.m. on July 29 at Stillwater High School.
The DOH released a statement saying it “began monitoring these drinking water supplies for PCBs in May 2008 to establish a baseline before General Electric begins dredging PCB-contaminated sediments in 2009. Samples collected before dredging will be compared to samples collected during dredging to help determine whether water quality changes. … Sampling will continue through September of this year.”
More from The Daily Gazette: