EWG tap water database includes stats for Midland-Lonaconing

Feb. 2—LONACONING, Md. — Many questions are expected Monday night at a meeting that will include discussion about the Midland-Lonaconing Water System's problems.

A few might be: When will the boil water advisory end? What caused the turbidity? What's in the water and what's being done to make it healthy?

Sydney Evans, a science analyst on the investigations team at Environmental Working Group based in Washington, D.C., said open communication between folks in charge of the water system and the community is an important step to identify and resolve the issues.

Monday's meeting begins at 6 p.m. and will be held at the Good Will Fire Company Armory, 2 Advocate Court, Lonaconing.

"I'm really excited to hear there's a meeting," she said. "That's the number one thing that we recommend."

The Maryland Department of the Environment ordered a boil water advisory for customers of the Midland-Lonaconing Water System Jan. 17 after its water appeared cloudy. It was extended Tuesday through at least Feb. 9.

The Maryland Environmental Service took control of the water system Jan. 25.

The Cumberland Times-News requested water test results for the system from the past six months, but MDE as of Wednesday hadn't provided them.

MES has not responded to phone messages left by the newspaper.

Database

EWG is a nonprofit that works to protect environmental health by changing industry standards.

The group's areas of focus includes food, water and toxic chemicals.

EWG maintains a tap water database that includes statistics for the Midland-Lonaconing Water System.

The drinking water quality report shows results of tests conducted by the water utility and provided to EWG by the Maryland Department of the Environment, as well as information from the U.S. EPA Enforcement and Compliance History database.

For the latest quarter assessed by the EPA, January 2021 to March 2021, the Midland-Lonaconing tap water was in compliance with federal drinking water standards.

But there's are differences between legal limits that are enforceable and health guidelines that are not.

Guidelines

The EPA has not set a new tap water standard in almost 20 years, and some standards are more than 40 years old, according to EWG.

Federal limits "are based on health risks, but they're also based on costs and treatment considerations," Evans said and added policies can be influenced by lobbying, politics and industry interests.

"It takes a long time to make regulations, even longer to change them," she said. "Which means many times the science and the costs and technology that those are based on can be ... out of date."

Health guidelines, which don't require compliance, are generally based on more recent health science.

"They are concerned only with determining the concentration at which there would be no unreasonable adverse health risk from drinking the water," Evans said.

"We've got more updated studies that show longer-term health risks from lower contaminants, and there's no ... consideration of other things," she said and added health guidelines are purely based on risks to public health.

Contaminants

EWG's database for Midland-Lonaconing shows 20 contaminants, 12 of which exceed the organization's health guidelines, but most fall below national averages.

A lot of the contaminants are known as water disinfection byproducts.

"EWG is fully in support of disinfecting drinking water," Evans said. "You have to in order for people to not get sick from the pathogens that occur in drinking water."

But, that requires a balancing act, she said.

"While I don't see any one of these contaminants at astronomically high levels, they are all above the health guidelines," Evans said and added that many of the contaminants are carcinogens. "We know that the concentrations that exist in this system are linked to increased health outcomes over time."

EWG's database includes information on water filters that can reduce contaminant levels.

Water customers also need to understand the utility is a frontline defense against water contamination, Evans said.

"Figuring out how to protect source water is the number-one key to improving water quality," she said. "The less the utility has to do, the more affordable, safe and clean drinking water becomes."

Learn more at EWG.org.

Teresa McMinn is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or tmcminn@times-news.com.