If you read our print and digital editions last week you saw the story about the city of Ashland preparing to pay a $22,500 fine for violations given to the city's water works system.
We write today to put this all in perspective. While every person who drinks city water has a right to know this information — that's why we worked to gather the records and why we published the story — we also think it's important to state that city's water is obviously safe to drink. Most of these violations were for what seems to be sloppy record keeping and the failure to properly file paperwork or perform the necessary tests. We saw only one violation that caused us, as customers, to ponder any health concern, and it seemed to us to be minor. We've covered a lot of water systems across the country that have a lot more problems than the city of Ashland.
In our view, the city has room to improve on this front, but this is also not the end of the world.
For the record the city's system received 33 violations from May 2015 to March 2018. That is certainly a lot. The Ashland Board of Commissioners held a first reading of an ordinance that stated the city would pay $22,500 to the Commonwealth of Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. The city will enter into an agreed order with the state. This agreed order would cover any violations that occurred five years prior the day it is signed. The agreed order outlines the violations and how to correct the violations given to Ashland Water Works.
“They (the state) are working with us, so we can produce the best water possible,” said City Manager Mike Graese. “We also agreed we will give a written response that will address all the issues that were identified. We’ve come to the understanding there are areas we need to improve."
The city has also put forth a plan of corrective action to make sure they improve. The nuts and bolts on this is the majority of violations were for operational evaluation reports were not filed, analytical reports for turbidity were not submitted, public notices were not performed properly, and line leaks from the city's aging water system caused problems. Regarding public health the TTHM for maximum contaminant levels occasionally exceeded the allowable limits. TTHM stands for trihalomethanes. These are biproducts of the disinfection process stemming from chlorine compounds reacting with other naturally occurring chemicals.
While that sounds bad, TTHMs are quite common in public water systems especially in warmer climates. We have covered their existence in water systems in other jurisdictions. Our understanding is that, if you were to drink a gallon of water every day with elevated levels of TTHMs over 30 years you expose yourself to a slightly increased risk of bladder cancer. Thus environmental regulators have taken a cautious approach to making sure the public knows when TTHM levels are elevated.
The one item we saw that did cause us some concern was a report of failure to maintain adequate chlorine residual in the distribution system.
So, here's our take: the city needs to do a better job on this front, particularly in regards to record keeping and filing reports. They've acknowledged as much. We believe they will do so moving forward. We also believe city residents can drink tap water safely with little if any concern that isn't already found in any other public water system across the nation.