Department of Health satisfied with Cumberland’s water testing

Department of Health satisfied with Cumberland’s water testing

CUMBERLAND – Officials from the Rhode Island Department of Health have signed off on the Cumberland Water Department’s action plan for ongoing testing of local water, which includes collecting data from various supply sources in an attempt to develop a correlation between odor and temperature.

Once the CWD has the right data, says Water Supt. Chris Champi, officials will have better information on whether they should draw water from other sources during certain times of the year when water is warmer.

The Breeze reported last month that two of three samples taken by the CWD off Bear Hill Road tested high for odor, a “subjective” test, Champi says, which literally involves someone sniffing the water.

RIDOH officials “are satisfied with the course of action at this time,” said Champi. Water tested had no dangerous elements in it, he said, and water with higher odor levels will not have an adverse impact on someone’s health.

The Town Council, at a meeting last Wednesday, Oct. 3, questioned Champi about the ongoing efforts to test the water after numerous complaints about the odor and taste of water across town. He told members the complaints were not clustered south of Route 295, meaning the issues were found in both Cumberland’s water supply and in water purchased from the Pawtucket Water Supply Board, which also gets its water from Cumberland sources.

Nine Cumberland residents had requested testing as of Oct. 5, and another eight residents have requested testing for this week. Water officials are waiting on another two residents to schedule a sampling.

All samples taken to date have been shown safe to drink. Along with odor sampling at nine homes, the CWD has also taken odor samples from each of its sources of water, and results of all samples have been between two and 20 on a threshold odor number, or TON, said Champi. The secondary maximum contaminant level for odor is three TON, and nearly all of the samples taken exceeded that maximum level, he said.

Champi told council members at that as a secondary contaminant, odor is a non-enforceable drinking water standard that suppliers are only required to test for on a voluntary basis.

“Odor is subjective as some people have a higher sensitivity to certain odors than others,” he said. Water with an odor level higher than the secondary maximum contaminant levels, or SMCL, is still safe to drink but may cause some customers to be concerned about the quality of their drinking water, he said.

In testing for odors, a 200-milliliter sample of odorless water is initially used for the beginning of the test. Five milliliters of water being sampled is added to 195 milliliters of the odorless water, he said, and if an odor is detected by the technician who is smelling the water, the 200 ml is then divided by the five ml of the water added, resulting in a count of 40 TON.

“Also noteworthy is that the type of odor which the technician smells is not recorded, just the fact that they detected an odor, so a high chlorine residual can also cause a high odor result to be recorded,” he said.

There can also be a variation of the result between different technicians, he said, and water officials have also experienced variations with the complaints they have seen.

“For instance, two comments posted on social media by people who live on the same street, two houses apart, one person said that their water has been fine and the other said that theirs was terrible,” he said. “I have personally spoken with two customers who have said that they don’t smell anything wrong with the water, however their spouse has told them that it smells terrible.”

Town Councilor Lisa Beaulieu attested to that dynamic, saying she has a much more sensitive nose than her husband.

The CWD services 8,437 accounts within its service area north of Marshall Avenue, equating to a population of approximately 23,094 people. 

Of 61 people who had commented about water issues on social media, 42 were confirmed as CWD customers (three of those had no negative comments), nine were confirmed not to be customers of CWD, and 10 were not able to be verified as living within the local service area, said Champi.

CWD sent letters to the 39 customers who were confirmed to be located within the supplier’s service area who had expressed concerns about their water quality. As of Oct. 5, three had requested that their water be tested. 

As officials continue to conduct testing to develop a correlation between odor sampling results and water temperature, they’ve seen the the temperature of Sneech Pond drop six degrees in three weeks, said Champi.

“If we see that the odor result for Sneech Pond has dropped below the SMCL, then we can use that information next season and if feasible not use that source when water temperatures rise above where they are currently,” he told The Breeze.

The RIDOH also sampled the source water at Sneech Pond for cyanotoxins, or blue green algae, a contaminant that can also produce odors. The results were all below the detection limit, said Champi, and ruled that out as a possible factor.

All testing done by the CWD of late fits within its annual budget, said Champi.