The man in charge of overseeing Crothersville Water Utility has more than 700 reasons to ensure the town’s drinking water supply is safe.
Those reasons include his family and his two co-workers at the water plant.
“I have four kids, and we live in town and drink the water,” Chris Mains said. “Everyone who works here also lives in town.”
Some people across the country have been questioning the safety of their drinking water supplies in light of the entire water system in Flint, Michigan, being declared unsafe late last year because of high levels of lead.
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The Environmental Protection Agency requires water system operators to monitor more than 80 drinking water contaminants, including lead, and to report any detected in water samples in an annual report.
Lead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of the most dangerous contaminants found in drinking water and is especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women. It can cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, impaired hearing, learning disabilities, short stature and behavioral problems, according to the CDC.
An Associated Press analysis of U.S. EPA data found that nearly 1,400 water systems serving 3.7 million Americans have exceeded the federal lead standard at least once since Jan. 1, 2013. The affected systems are large and small, public and private, and include 278 systems that are owned and operated by schools and day care centers in 42 states.
None of those systems were in Jackson County, where most people get their drinking water from Indiana American Water Co., which serves about 7,500 customers in the Seymour area, and Jackson County Water Utility, which serves about 5,700 customers in the Brownstown area and western parts of the county.
Jackson County’s four public water utility companies all get their water from wells.
Both Indiana American Water and Jackson County Water Utility passed their most recent tests, according to the database. The most recent samples were listed as Dec. 31, 2014.
If 10 percent of a drinking water system’s samples exceed the federal limit of 15 parts per billion in lead, the utility is required to advise customers and take action.
Indiana American Water’s most recent sample contained 2.0 parts per billion, and Jackson County Water Utility’s was 3.7 parts per billion. By comparison, Flint’s was 150 parts per billion.
The smaller water companies, such as the ones serving Medora and Crothersville, are not part of the database, but that doesn’t mean they are not required to test for copper and lead, Mains said.
“We have to test 10 or 12 sites each year,” he said. “We do it in August or September.”
The samples are sent to a lab, which then sends it on to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, he said.
Jackson County Water Utility conducts its sampling for lead and copper the same way, but the number of samples taken from customers every three years is 30, manager Larry McIntosh said.
He said those samples are taken in areas where there might be some question about drinking water quality.
The customers get a sampling kit one night and are told to take a sample when they awaken the next morning to allow water in the lines to settle overnight, McIntosh said.
Each utility, including Crothersville and Medora, must produce consumer confidence reports and make them available to the public.
Jackson County Water Utility’s consumer confidence report for 2014 shows lead, copper, sodium, fluoride, nitrate and nitrite and chlorine all were found in the water supply. Those reports are mailed to customers with a bill.
The company’s drinking water, however, met or exceeded all EPA and Indiana drinking water requirements, McIntosh said.
Indiana American Water’s consumer confidence report for 2014 also showed that company’s water supply was better than all state and federal drinking water requirements.
“All of our water systems across the state are consistently below the lead and copper action,” said Joe Loughmiller, external affairs manager with Indiana American Water Co.
He said all of the company’s 18 systems in the state are on reduced monitoring schedules of every three years based on their history of compliance and meeting EPA’s criteria for eligibility.
Like Mains, McIntosh said he takes the safety of his utility’s drinking water supply seriously.
He said some lead pipes can still be found in a small area of the older parts of system in Brownstown.
He said there are 75 or less lines in place containing lead, and the company is working to replace those with PVC pipes.
“We’re doing about 15 a year until they are done,” he said. “We have a policy if we see lead pipes during construction, they come out of the ground immediately.”
He said those pipes are mostly the older areas of the systems, which were installed nearly 100 years ago, and the records for that time period don’t exist.
They are generally lines known as goosenecks (short flexible lines usually 6 inches to three feet long) that are used to connect a service line to a main line, McIntosh said.
Those were made of lead for a period of time because of the flexibility/durability of lead. The use of such lines declined sharply after World War II, Loughmiller said, and most are now made of either copper or plastic tubing.
Loughmiller said none of Indiana American Water’s more than 100 miles of water mains in Seymour are composed of lead.
“But we may have a very small number of service lines (connecting water mains to the customer’s water meters) that are composed of lead or containing lead components,” he said.
McIntosh said if people have concern about lead in their home plumbing, they should flush their lines from 30 seconds to two minutes before using water for drinking or cooking.
Consumers also may have their water tested. Information about lead in drinking water, testing methods and the steps that can be taken to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water hotline at 800-426-4791 or epa.gov/safewater/lead.
Loughmiller said he has had a few calls from customers about lead and/or overall water quality since the situation in Flint hit the national news.
“Probably less than five,” Loughmiller said.
Steve Ingle, Medora’s chief of police, also doubles as the superintendent of the town’s water utility, which has a little more than 300 customers.
He said the town, like the other municipal water companies, is on a three-year schedule for testing lead and cooper, and there have not been any issues.
Ingle also is required to do daily testing for chlorine, phosphates and nitrates and to publish a consumer confidence report each year. That’s mailed out to customers with the bill, and copies also are available at town hall.
Paul Ramsey with the Jackson County Health Department said the health department is mainly concerned with any bacteria that might be found in the drinking supply but would become more involved if lead was to show up in unusually high amounts in young children.
“We would take a more active role,” he said.
That role would be advisory in nature, he said, although the health department also would likely help with trying to determine the source of the lead.
“Right now, there is no indication of any drinking water issues in the city of Seymour, Brownstown or anywhere else in the county,” Ramsey said.
Some consumer confidence reports are available online
Indiana American Water Co.: amwater.com
Others may be obtained by contacting the utility
Jackson County Water Utility: 812-358-3654
Crothersville Water Utility: 812-793-2311 (town hall) or 812-793-2540 (water utility)
Medora Water Utility: 27 N. Perry St.