Getting Answers: surplus of contaminants in Springfield water

The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission released updated data on drinking water earlier this month and test results showed a surplus level of contaminants.
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 9:27 AM EST
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission released updated data on drinking water earlier this month and test results showed a surplus level of contaminants.

Sample results taken on December 1, 2022 found high levels of contaminants of two disinfection byproducts in the drinking water at their regional plant in Westfield that serves seven communities in the Pioneer Valley.

“Disinfection byproducts form when natural dissolved organic material, which is found in any surface water supply, interacts with our disinfection process, so we chlorinate the water in order to protect against bacteria and other microorganisms,” said Springfield Water and Sewer Commission spokesperson Jaimye Bartak.

Bartak told us these latest results are not cause for immediate concern.

“Anytime there is an issue with the water that causes an immediate health hazard, people would know as soon as possible, within 24 hours, right away, but we are not there…With disinfection byproducts, the health risks come into account over many decades or lifetime of drinking them at elevated levels. That’s where the risk lies,” Bartak added.

Elevated levels in disinfection byproducts are not new. It’s an issue the facility has been dealing with since 2015 as regulations have changed and the treatment center’s infrastructure became outdated.

“We have those fluctuations in precipitation events, the organics can change and that’s where our plant comes in. Our plant wasn’t designed to remove the amount of organics we need to to meet today’s 21st-century regulations,” Bartak explained.

That’s when the commission began designing and renovating a new West Parish water treatment plant.

“The new facility is designed to really respond to our changing climate conditions, as well as add basic resiliency and redundancy. The newest parts of our plant right now are 50 years old, so a lot of the infrastructure in and of itself is at the end of life,” Bartak noted.

Phase one of the construction of the new West Parish filter water treatment plant is expected to be completed by the end of this year. However, the entire plant won’t be done until 2027.

“We are looking forward to adding a new treatment step, which will eliminate the problem with disinfection byproducts. We are going to add some additional treatment to it, so that is obviously what we are most excited about,” Bartak said.

Bartak told Western Mass News this is not just an issue in our area, but one across the country.

“You hear about Jackson, Mississippi, where there wasn’t investment in their water supply for decades and now, you’re seeing the problems hit home and accumulate, so that’s what we are trying to get ahead of this and get a new plant up and running that will serve the region for decades to come,” Bartak noted.

However, Bartak reminded residents the commission will continue to keep the public in the know until the new plant is completed.

“One thing we do want people to be aware of is that we are anticipating that we will continue to see elevated disinfection byproducts, particularly if we have rainy spells, until we get this plant up and running. The current plant just isn’t designed to meet the regulations of today, so we just want people to be aware of that,” Bartak said.

Although Bartak said there is no immediate health risk to residents drinking their water, if you are experiencing any kind of health problems, be sure to contact your doctor.