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This week East Longmeadow residents received yet another notice from the DPW warning us that the water we drink contains cancer-causing toxins. 

For a copy of the notice, click the document below:

Our water contains excessive amounts of chlorine byproducts: Haloacetic Acid 5 (HAA5) and Total Trihalomethanes (TTH).

Unhealthy levels of these chemicals have been in our water since 2018, according to the notice.

The notice informs  residents that

People who drink water containing trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL [maximum contaminant level] over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

In addition

People who drink water containing haloacetic acids in excess of the MCL over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.

The Department of Environment Protection’s (DEP) website adds that HAA5 may also increase our risk for bladder, colon, and rectal cancer.

The chemical is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and small children.  The DEP warns that

Various adverse reproductive and developmental effects have been observed in experimental laboratory animals following exposure to disinfection byproducts (which include HAA5).  In some, but not all, studies in people, similar effects have also been reported.  In general, young children may be more susceptible to the effects from any chemical exposure, such as HAA5, because their ability to metabolize chemicals is not mature and because their exposures may be greater for their size than in adults

Concerning pregnant women:

Because some data indicate that disinfection byproducts may increase the risk of developmental effects, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant may wish to avoid consuming water containing HAA5 and other disinfection byproducts exceeding the drinking water standard.

Despite this, East Longmeadow’s water and sewer administrator, Felix Vachon, has assured everyone that there’s nothing to worry about.  Back in October 2021 he told the Reminder, “There’s nothing wrong with the water.  I drink it.  I’ve been drinking it for years.”   He then quickly added that “people may want to consult a doctor if they have a compromised immune system, babies or are pregnant.”

For those us who aren’t set at ease by Mr. Vachon’s assurances, what can be done?

Thankfully, the DEP has provided some advice for those of us concerned about the issue.

Recommendation #1: Drink bottled water

The most significant measure that you can take to reduce your exposure to HAA5 is to use bottled water for drinking or preparing beverages and food that retain water such as oatmeal or pasta.

Recommendation #2: Filter your water

Various types of home filters including Reverse Osmosis and Granular Activated Carbon treatment technologies have been shown to reduce exposure to disinfection byproducts…Consumers are encouraged to consult with an independent third-party organization that certify the effectiveness of home filter products (e.g., NSF International, Water Quality Association, or Underwriters Laboratories).  

There appears to be no immediate end in sight to the problem.  Again, according to the Reminder,

A $167 million upgrade to the water treatment plant is scheduled to be completed by the end of June 2023.  Until then, Vachon said, the HAA5 levels in East Longmeadow’s drinking water will continue to be high.