San Angelo, TX

Again, San Angelo Facing Water Woes

Melinda Crow by Johnny McClung on Unsplash
San Angelo, Texas February 17, 2021, For the second time this month, San Angelo residents are under water restrictions-- this time in the midst of the most extreme low temperatures felt in the state for decades. While many residents have been struggling to maintain heat in their homes, city officials announced a citywide boil water notice late yesterday to everyone outside the areas already under the do-not use or do-not drink areas affected by the earlier contamination issue. Officials tempered their remarks with this statement:
"We realize that there are still a large number of citizens without power due to the winter storm and that boiling water may not be possible due to no electric power." 
The current water issue stems from leaking water lines caused by freezing temperatures. In an update at 6:44 a.m. this morning, the water district advises that crews worked through the night in an effort to restore water to as many citizens as possible. Residents were also advised to report any flowing water seen anywhere around town.
The earlier contamination issue affects primarily the PaulAnn area, where some residents are still under restrictions. The boil water notice does not in any way affect those areas.
The contamination report of the samplings tested by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) states:
"The City has collected 52 individual samples over 4 sampling events in addition to TCEQ performing their own sampling. No abnormal test results have been detected in San Angelo’s system outside of the PaulAnn subdivision and the adjacent industrial area."
Contaminates found in the water in the restricted areas include benzene, naphthalene, acetone, tetrahydrofuran, and toluene, among several others. The source of the contamination is still under investigation, but it is clear so far that the chemicals, often used as a solvent, entered the water after it left the city treatment plant. City water officials continue to work with TCEQ to determine the source and the ongoing impact.
Residents in the affected areas have been advised not to consume the water and not to boil it, as this could potentially release the chemicals into the air. A 3-page FAQ document outlines the information available at this time.
An additional 5-page document provides details about the chemicals that are involved in the contamination. It explains that some of the chemicals are normally present in treated water in small quantities.
An example of that is benzene, which is present in the environment. The amount tolerated in treated water is 5 ug/l (micrograms per liter, also expressed as ppb or parts per billion.) The amount of benzene found in water sampled on February 8 ranged from more than 17 ppb to 35 ppb, or seven times the amount allowed. It moves easily through the ground into water.
Acetone was detected in one sample on the 8th, at roughly 8 ppb. It is not regulated in drinking water--meaning it is never supposed to be present. It is toxic and highly flammable. Ingestion is most commonly through inhalation because it easily evaporates.
Acrylonitrile, a chemical used in the production of other chemicals like plastics, rubber, and acrylic fibers, was detected in the water sampled in the PaulAnn area 4.25 ppb and 1.33 pbb in two of the samples. It is also not regulated in drinking water.
Naphthalene, the chemical first suspected in the contamination due to its distinct mothball odor that was reported by residents, was detected in two samples at 141 ppb and 1.93 ppb. It is also not regulated in drinking water. It breaks down in water or moisture or in the presence of bacteria.
A chemical found in the environment in trace mounts, 2-Butonone, was detected in two of the samples at the rate of 2.51 ppb and 1.14 ppb. It is more commonly known as methyl ethyl ketone, used as a solvent. It is not regulated in drinking water. It is known to cause harm when ingested but is classified by the EPA as a Class D chemical, meaning it is unknown whether it causes cancer or not.
Tetrahydrofuran was detected in four of the samples, at the rates of 7.33 ppb, 4.76 ppb, 9.07 ppb, and 7.22 ppb. It is also known as oxolane. It is a solvent used in the production of nylons, as well as a solvent for PVC and in varnishes. It is relatively non-toxic (compared to acetone) but is highly flammable. It is not regulated in drinking water by the EPA or the state but is in the state of Minnesota at the rate of 600 ppb.
Additional chemicals were found in the water within tolerable limits set by the EPA for drinking water. The list includes the chemicals used to treat the water for bacteria. The solvent-type chemicals found in the water are all commonly used in industrial forms. When asked if the contamination could be terrorist-related or a malicious attack, officials state it is unlikely given the small area affected by the contamination, but an investigation is ongoing by TCEQ. Outside law enforcement officials have not been brought in.

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