Muddy County Streams to Blame for City’s Contaminated Tap Water

The City of Frederick has a problem with polluted source waters, and that problem is growing, according to a report by the Friends of Frederick County and Cleanwater_Linganore.

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.

In 2013, City water authorities aggressively disinfected the water to make it safe to drink, but in the process, inadvertently created toxic byproducts of chlorination (DBPs) in amounts that violated legal limits. Since then, we continue to see spikes in DBP that show risk of bladder cancer, miscarriage and other health issues especially to pregnant women.

Water chlorination is not a substitute for protecting the source of Frederick’s waters and protecting the residents from further pollution. But a number of decisions by the Blaine Young-led Board of County Commissioners have served to weaken protections for our drinking water at the same time that other decisions have increased the threats.

Reducing the buffers for stream courses, while also allowing activities that strip natural vegetation in the narrower buffer reduced protection for county watercourses. Weakening the county’s Forest Resource Ordinance as much as state law would allow was another step in the wrong direction. Rezoning many thousands of acres of farms and forest for development, including substantial tracts of wooded slopes in the Linganore watershed that should be protected, will further threaten our source water supply, and will mean continued high levels of contamination in Frederick City tap water.

The quality of Frederick’s drinking water will continue to decline as the decisions of the current commissioners dramatically alter the county’s landscape over the years ahead.

linganorewatersheddevelopmentpipeline

Last year, tap water in the City of Frederick violated federal health standards for carcinogenic chlorination byproducts. Three of the eight 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 city’s water treatment. Frederick County has a history of polluted surface water, and the City of Frederick has a history of tap water contamination from the chemicals used to clean the polluted water. The two are naturally linked.

“As a pediatrician, I’m concerned about this level of contamination in city tap water. Developing infants, bottle fed babies and other sensitive populations should consider other sources of drinking water,” said Dr. Betsy Smith, President of Cleanwater_Linganore. “That said, there is little more Frederick City can do with its current water treatment facilities to clean up the dirty water coming from Frederick County. The focus should be on cleaning up the water going in to the treatment plant so less disinfection is necessary.”

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 or download the full report here: “Contamination of Frederick City’s Drinking Water with Polluted County Surface Water”

waterstudy500w

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:

    monocacyscenicriver250w• 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

surfacewatersourcesLake 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 five times the state standard, clearly contributing to Frederick city’s tap water contamination problem.

The overall breakdown of surface water used by the City of Frederick: Linganore Creek (42.4 %), the Monocacy River (28.6 %), the Potomac River (16.4 %) and Fishing Creek (12.6 %).

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, however, 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 within 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.

And they could get worse.

In the report, Friends of Frederick County and Cleanwater_Linganore recommend that the following actions be taken to protect the public drinking water for the City of Frederick:

    • Frederick County should establish source water protection areas with strict enforcement to
    protect drinking water and minimize health risks to City residents.

    • The Maryland Department of the Environment should mandate that Frederick County once again strengthen its buffer zone ordinance to provide maximum protection for Frederick City’s drinking water sources.

    • The Maryland Department of the Environment, Frederick County and City should monitor land use and organic matter in the source water drainage areas, rivers and streams, and make that information public on websites and in the Annual Drinking Water Report.

    • Frederick County and City should do a thorough economic analysis of the public financial burden of revising the drinking water plans versus protecting the source water.

More detailed versions of these recommendations are found in the report.


Open or download the full report here: “Contamination of Frederick City’s Drinking Water with Polluted County Surface Water” (as a 3.6MB pdf file).

Contacts:

Janice Wiles, Board Member Friends of Frederick County, report principle author 240-626-5209

Dr. Betsy Smith, President Cleanwater_Linganore, Pediatrician 301-524-3176

Jane Houlihan, Environmental Engineer, Health and Water Quality Specialist 240-447-0116


Friends of Frederick County on the web

Friends of Frederick County on Facebook

Cleanwater Linganore on the web

Cleanwater Linganore on Facebook

fredericktapwatercontamination

Click on the image above to open a larger version.