Clifton Park

Editorial: Why wait on water notification in Clifton Park?

If it is contaminated, wouldn't you want to know right away?
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PHOTOGRAPHER:

What good does it do for anyone to be told in January that their water was contaminated in November?

Apparently, that’s OK with the state when it comes to higher-than-normal levels of contamination related to disinfecting water in the area north of Ushers Road in Clifton Park.

Back in November, the Clifton Park Water Authority discovered that levels of Haloacetic acids (HAA), a byproduct of the water disinfection process, were above the standard limit deemed acceptable to the federal government.

The contaminant is produced when chlorine used to treat the water reacts with organic materials in the raw water supply, such as rivers and lakes.

While long-term exposure to HHAs in drinking water can lead to an increased risk of cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, state and local officials said the water didn’t present a health risk to consumers.

Using that logic, one might be able to understand why officials didn’t immediately notify residents.

But if it was no big deal, then why send off samples to the state in the first place?

And if there was no reason to alert the 2,000 water customers to the higher level of these HHAs in the water supply when it occurred, then why did the state and the water authority feel compelled to tell residents in January?

When the levels spiked, the local water authority didn’t know that it was a one-time occurrence. It could have signaled some kind of problem that might either be ongoing or could reoccur.

If you as a resident were concerned about HHA contamination and wanted to take action to remove it, such as installing a filter on household faucets, the time you would want to be notified was when the chemical was actually present in the water — not several weeks after.

So as not to alarm residents, the notification could have included a caveat explaining the chemical properties, the levels that were found in relation to the federal standards, the relative level of concern about health and safety, and a suggestion on how to take action if that was something you wanted to do.

Certainly, it’s possible to alert the public as a precaution closer to when the spike in contamination occurred. That might be valuable information for residents, even if the spike is relatively minor.

There are email and text alerts that can be used. Officials could have placed a notification on the town and county websites and hung notices in town hall. They could have placed notices on customers’ doors. They could have posted written alerts on social media (Facebook, Twitter) and alerted local newspapers, TV stations and radio stations.

It just seems that the point of notifying residents about a spike in anything that can affect one’s health is to let people know about a problem so they can take precautions.

What kind of precautions can you take if they tell you about a problem long after the fact?

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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