Originally created 05/24/00

Water color changes concern residents



Rebecca DeRosa and her neighbors are wary of their water.

The south Richmond County residents say at times, their taps run clear. But lately, their pets' water bowls often are lined with a thin brown film. Their filled bathtubs appear yellow. Ms. DeRosa's swimming pool has been plagued with a sludge-like red layer collecting along its bottom.

Utility department officials attribute the discoloration to a high iron content, something they say is fairly common to areas serviced by older water lines. They say it is a correctable problem with no health risks.

But residents are suspect of such an easy answer and plan on drinking bottled water until the water undergoes additional testing.

"They say don't worry, but when all of a sudden your water starts turning a different color and everyone in the house starts getting sick - it's scary," said Ann Cunningham, whose home is on Done Roven Road, near Bennock Mill Road. "I don't want my dog drinking anything like that. My husband raises hogs, they slop around in the mud every day, and I don't want them to drink anything like that."

The utilities department has collected multiple water samples from the area in response to customer complaints, Director Max Hicks said. Water lines are being flushed out daily to eliminate the discoloration, he said.

But residents have continued to look beyond the immediate answers given to them, even employing the efforts of local Augusta State University chemistry student Mandy Green to conduct independent lab tests on the water.

"I've started to suspect some things," Ms. Green said, including the possibility that the water might contain higher-than-normal levels of volatile organic chemicals, contaminates that often come from petroleum products and detergents.

Her findings are inconclusive, and water officials question the methodology in which the samples have been collected.

But the recent attention her findings generated within the rural community prompted utility workers to consult the state Environmental Protection Division, which is sending sampling equipment to Augusta officials this morning so volatile organic chemicals testing can be conducted.

Utility officials say state laws require them to check for volatile organic chemicals only once every three years, and the Kimberly-Clark Well, which has been serving the Bennock Mill Road area for the past two months, was tested just last year.

In unacceptable levels, volatile organic chemicals can pose a variety of health risks, depending on the exposure time.

"I feel like since we did the testing in 1998 and 1999 that we're not going to see a problem," said Debra Sanders, the ground water production supervisor for Augusta's utilities department.

In-house tests recently conducted by utilities officials have confirmed what already was suspected - a high iron content in the Kimberly-Clark well, Ms. Sanders said.

Iron is a natural mineral and is listed as a secondary water contaminate. It does not pose a health risk, but it can cause adverse effects, such as stained plumbing and laundry, Ms. Sanders said.

"Most people are not going to drink red and yellow water anyway, but we're working on cleaning out the lines every day," she said.

Residents report that when the water is used in large amounts, the discoloration intensifies, as Ms. DeRosa discovered when she tried filling the pool of her Bennock Mill Loop home last week.

"I still don't know what I'm dealing with," Ms. DeRosa said. "It makes you paranoid, and I don't want to be paranoid. I just don't know what it is. Hopefully, we'll find out."

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.