WOODS CROSS — The city will spend about $4 million to have contaminants filtered out of residents' drinking water.
Traces of the chemical perchloroethylene, or PCE, have been found in several drinking water wells in Woods Cross. It’s a colorless, organic liquid with a mild, chloroform-like odor. It’s a common solvent used in dry cleaning operations.
"We got the first hits (of PCE) in our water wells about 20 years ago,” said Gary Uresk, Woods Cross city administrator, “and we shut down two of our wells, which were on the eastern part of the city. Now it's affected some of the western part, and that's what precipitated this discussion on it this time."
The contamination may have come from a dry cleaner in the area, but the report from the EPA was not definitive. It said there may have been other sources.
"Some people, after drinking the water day in and day out for an extended period of time for years, they may have liver problems or cancers develop," said Ken Bousfield, director of the Utah Division of Drinking Water. "Showing up in the water is one thing, and showing a health defect is something else. It would take a long time before one would experience the related health effect."
The maximum contaminant level has been set at five parts per billion. The levels of PCE are within EPA safety standards, city officials said.
The city held three open houses in March and had an online survey for people to give their comments on what they felt the city should do about the PCE.
"I think it definitely needs to happen,” Woods Cross resident Brittany Bennett said. “I definitely think it's something that's important, and I'm glad the city is making sure that it gets taken care of."
Some people, after drinking the water day in and day out for an extended period of time for years, they may have liver problems or cancers develop.
–Ken Bousfield, director of the Utah Division of Drinking Water
City leaders said response from the public was overwhelming: People want the chemical out of their drinking water.
"I think anybody, when they're talking about their drinking water, really would like it clean and pure, and so that's the response that we got, and the City Council felt like they wanted to go to the public," Uresk said.
The water currently being provided by the city comes from an uncontaminated well, according to its website. When the wells containing PCE are used, during the summer when demand for water is highest, the PCE levels are well below EPA safety standards.
During its April 16 meeting, the Woods Cross City Council decided to move forward with construction of a treatment facility to remove PCE from its wells. The facility is scheduled to be completely functional sometime during 2014.
Woods Cross residents will have to pay between $7 and $9 more on their monthly water bills to pay for the treatment plant.
"I think there's no price you can put on your health,” Bennett said, “and you know you'd rather be safe than sorry, and prevent maybe future problems, especially if maybe the contamination gets worse.”
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc