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Post Date:August 24, 2017 9:01 a.m.

 Below is the text of a speech given by Waterworks Director Robbie Brou to the St. Charles Parish Council at their Aug. 14 meeting in Hahnville regarding the quality of the parish water system. 

"I was scheduled tonight to come and speak to you about the operations of the Department of Waterworks for the last year including construction projects completed or on-going, our plans for the future, Department Statics, etc. However, after a recent article that appeared in the Times-Picayune concerning the water quality in St. Charles, I feel it is critical that I provide clarity on the accuracy of this report.

The goal of St Charles Parish Government is to always work toward improving the quality of life for our residents. One of the ways we do this is by providing safe, drinkable water.

I would like it to be clear that St. Charles Parish’s Drinking Water is in full compliance with all State and Federal water quality standards, is safe to drink and has been recognized by local, state and regional authorities as being one of the best tasting on a consistent basis. Our record of accomplishment with regulatory compliance has been impeccable throughout my tenure with the department and that compliance started decades prior to my career with the Waterworks as evidenced by St. Charles Water District #2 being awarded with the first ever EPA Operational Excellence Award in the country. It has been and will continue to be our goal to meet, or where possible exceed, all water quality standards in order to protect the health and welfare of the residents of the parish.

St. Charles Parish Waterworks is repeatedly cited as an example on how to do it right by our regional and State Department of Health regulators. As you should be aware, I have been working hand-in-hand with the Department of Health’s State Health officer, their chief engineer and others with the Department for the last several years to develop new Water Standards for Louisiana. As part of this nineteen-member committee we have been working on regulations that will hopefully bring all water systems in the state up to a level of consistent compliance. These new regulations will be effective this coming January. I am also part of the Southwest Section of the American Water Works Associations’ Water Utility Council. As part of the Utility Council I have been promoting the agenda of the American Water Works Association at the Regional and Federal level to improve the quality of water systems nationwide.

A nonprofit group of self-proclaimed environmental activists whose intent seems to be to create mistrust and fear of public drinking water supplies is responsible for the creation of the report cited in the Times-Picayune article. This organization’s website is a compilation of self-imposed standards that reinforces their claim that most water systems are failing. However, to them the answer is not bottled water, which they are equally critical of, due to its leaching unacceptable levels of cancer causing agents from the plastic bottles, their answer is to use a point of use filter which surprisingly you can buy straight from their site.

Although the EPA reports that more than 90 per cent of the country’s drinking water systems meet the federal Health-Based drinking water standards, this group would have you believe that the vast majority is unfit for consumption. They suggest the exact opposite of EPA, suggesting that most systems provide unsafe drinking water. The health guidelines they claim are not being met, do not represent the consensus of the mainstream scientific and health communities. They look at the Maximum Contaminant Level Goals set by the EPA, developed through its scientific review; when they believe that these goals are not strong enough they look to California Public Health Goals, both of which are non-regulated guidelines used as a bearing or direction that the community of drinking Water professionals should be heading with research and development toward detection of specific contaminants and treatment technologies to remove them. By their own admission, this organization creates its own standards when it does not agree with accepted scientific standards.

Many of their proposed health guidelines are currently below a level in which the analytical equipment that is available is even capable of detecting.

EPA’s recommended Human-Health based criteria is the basis for the current regulations and is commonly referred to as the One in a Million Rule. Acceptable exposure is defined as being one additional occurrence of cancer, in one million people with an exposure of a 154 pound adult drinking 2 liters of water daily for over 70 years. That’s a 154 pound adult drinking 2 liters of water every day for more than 70 years resulting in one additional case of cancer per one million people.

The Environmental Protection Agency created Maximum Contaminate Levels, or an enforceable allowed level, of in this case Disinfection By-Products, using this Human-Health based criteria. These by-products represent the bulk of the items listed in the report as being detected in St. Charles‘s water. The rule was enacted because water that is disinfected, meaning a chemical is added to the water to kill all pathogenic organisms, will develop by-products of the reaction between the disinfection chemical and any organic or inorganic compounds present in the raw water. Disinfection is the process to kill harmful organisms that are present. Without proper disinfection the presence harmful bacteria, cysts or viruses could lead to bacteriological contamination, and would absolutely be an immediate risk to life and health, as well as a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Centers for Disease Control has called chlorination one of the Ten Greatest Public Health Achievements of the 20th Century. They state that “American drinking water supplies are among the safest in the world. The disinfection of water has played a critical role in improving drinking water quality in the United States.

The occurrence of diseases such as cholera and typhoid dropped dramatically, virtually disappearing from the landscape. In 1900, the occurrence of typhoid fever in the United States was approximately 100 cases per 100,000 people. By 1920, it had decreased to 33.8 cases per 100,000 people. In 2006, it had decreased to 0.1 cases per 100,000 people (only 353 cases) with approximately 75% occurring among international travelers all as a direct result of water disinfection.

The implementation of drinking water disinfection and treatment, improving the quality of source water, and improvements in sanitation and hygiene have had a dramatic effect on the quality of our water and is one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.

I would like to stress again that our first goal is to always comply with recognized state and federal regulations that are designed and have proven to be critical in protecting human life. Although the story attempts to rank the area’s system, the criteria utilized is so narrow as it applies to the numerous regulations and operational challenges faced by treatment professionals that it simply ignores compliance and operational history of the systems. The history that is a much more meaningful measure of the quality of the system and the water its produces and delivers.

The balancing act that we perform every day involves adding sufficient levels of disinfectant to ensure the microbial quality of the water while minimizing the levels of any disinfection by-products created. The longer the disinfectant remains in the system and the higher the residual, the more disinfection by-products are created, but the greater degree of protection the water has from bacteriological contamination.

One treatment additive that we tried in order to comply with these regulations was chlorine dioxide which we began feeding in 2002. It was used to minimize the formation of certain disinfection by products, but it too has a disinfection by-product that the report referenced as being detected between 2010 and 2015. Early this year we have ceased feeding chlorine dioxide which we found to be less effective than at lower disinfection by-products than a micro-carbon solution we recently pilot test with permission from the Department of Health. This new product that we are just now starting to feed in full production has shown very promising results in lower and/or eliminating the precursors to the by-products as well as the by-products themselves. In the pilot test we saw a reduction of >15% for a group of these disinfection by products.

As we constantly do we look at our current condition and analyzed what we would need to do in order to stay in compliance or otherwise improve water quality. This analysis of our treatment and distribution systems is a vital on-going function of running a successful water treatment system.

As I said before the goal of my department is to always provide safe, drinkable water for our residents and that is what we will continue to do."

 Robbie Brou, St. Charles Parish Waterworks Department Director

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