Oxford water a bit high in copper levels

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OXFORD — The town’s water system has violated drinking water standards by exceeding the federal standard for copper in its public drinking water supply.

The concentration of copper in a sampling taken in June was 1.7 milligrams per liter, which is above the allowable 1.3 milligrams per liter but is not considered an immediate risk, according to information from the Oxford Water District.

While the sample exceeded state and federal drinking water standard it is not considered an emergency and residents do not need to use an alternative water supply, said Ryan Lippincott, superintendent of the water district.

Lippincott said the district will install a new aeration system at the location of the town’s two wells off King Street within the next 12 months. An application has been submitted to the Maine Drinking Water program, which ordered the corrective action. The estimated $300,000 cost for the system may be paid for through water rates.

Lippincott said the district routinely monitors the water for containments. Every three years, several houses (that meet certain criteria) are selected at random to be tested.  The homeowners are asked to take the samplings, which are then taken by the district to be analyzed by a state-certified lab.

The samples are generally taken from kitchen and bathroom sinks or break room sinks, drinking fountains, etc. for those sampled in public spaces. Samples are taken several times over several days to meet federal and state regulations.

In this case, one house tested high for copper. Most house water pipes are made of copper, said Lippincott, and when the water circulates, it runs through the entire system.

He said he believes it may have exceeded the standard for the first time because of the high usage now placed on the system by places such as the Hampton Inn and Oxford Casino.

“There’s a lot more demand on the water system with the casino and hotel. We have to use this one well but it’s more corrosive.”

All public water systems are required to regularly sample and test their water to ensure that it meets federal and state drinking water standards and is safe to drink.

The Environmental Protection Agency sets maximum contaminant levels under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act. If the water sample violates the standards, the water district is given a notice of non-compliance with remedies, including notifying the public and disseminating educational material.

If the remedies are not completed within the time stated in the corrective action, in this case 12 months to install the new aeration system, the state can go to the next level, and file an Administration Consent Agreement against the water district.

If that fails, the Drinking Water program can impose fines along with the Administrative Consent Agreement. The order can be appealed through a hearing process.

Lippincott said that the higher levels of copper in the water should not be an issue for most people, but he suggests running the tap water at least 30 to 60 seconds before using the water.

According to information put out by the water district, which is part of its corrective action required by the state, some people who drink excessive water with higher-than-normal copper levels could experience gastrointestinal distress or, if it went on for years, could experience liver or kidney damage. People with Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder in which copper builds up in the body, should consult their personal doctor, according to the information released by the water district.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net