Despite reservations from both Montgomery and Prince George’s counties’ residents, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission General Manager and CEO Carla A. Reid reiterated on Aug. 17 that the discolored and smelly water running from their taps is safe to consume and use.
WSSC officials previously explained the change in water saying the presence of a harmful naturally-occurring organic material in the Potomac River, which is one of the agency’s sources for drinking water, was detected. As a result, WSSC altered its filtration process, on Aug. 8 which “in turn caused more manganese and iron particles to enter the drinking water, explaining the lack of crystal clear appearance.”
“Our number one goal is public health and I want all our customers to know that WSSC water is safe,” Reid said. “But from an aesthetic standpoint, the water is unacceptable and I sincerely apologize to our customers impacted by this discolored water. Our customers should not have to think twice about their drinking water when they turn on their taps.
“From a public health standpoint, it is more important to address the naturally-occurring organic material versus the aesthetic issue of manganese,” the press release stated.
Manganese, according to a WSSC report, is not considered a health hazard and is also not regulated by the EPA as a drinking water contaminant. EPA considers manganese a secondary contaminant for aesthetic reasons only. The EPA level for manganese, for aesthetic purposes, is 0.05 mg/l. WSSC’s current manganese levels are around 0.01 mg/l to 0.02 mg/l. Although below EPA’s aesthetic level, it can still cause discoloration.
During the month of August, WSSC has received more than 700 discolored water complaints. “Protecting public health by ensuring that drinking water provided by public water systems is safe and meets all standards is a priority for the Maryland Department of the Environment,” said Deputy Environment Secretary Horacio Tablada. “As part of its regulatory oversight, the department is working with WSSC as it makes operational adjustments to address changes in the nature of raw water in the Potomac River. The department’s most recent review of drinking water sampling data from WSSC shows that the utility is meeting all Safe Drinking Water Act standards.”
However, an employee with NIH, who lives in an area experiencing discolored and foul-smelling water, told ABC 7 she switched to bottled water for drinking, brushing her teeth, and cooking. The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said that though no one in her household had experienced any illnesses related to water, as a precaution, she would not use it.
Cheverly resident Monica Patrick told the AFRO it was unconscionable to tell residents something as foul as the water coming from her pipes was safe. Fearing a Flint-like disaster in the making, Patrick purchased several filtration systems and a lot of bottled water. “Flint taught the nation that we cannot take risks with our health based on the word of some of our officials. It is not to say that they are lying, but there is no way in the world someone with good sense would drink this,” Patrick said. “Better safe than sorry.”