Thursday, May 23, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Does drinking water notice in Elon suggest wider water quality problems?

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QUESTION:  Why did the town of Elon send out a drinking water notice to its utility customers last month? Does this notice suggest that contamination has spread from the city of Burlington, which serves as the source of drinking water for the smaller community?

 

ANSWER: The suspicion that there’s something wrong with Elon’s drinking water may strike some as a bit on-the-nose. But this inference isn’t borne out by the actual text of town’s public notice, which refers to lapses in testing procedures rather than any problem with the purity of the town’s water.

According to the notice itself, an error at an external lab was ultimately to blame for this obligatory alert, which the town’s public works director issued on March 19. The notice contends that this “outside laboratory failed to test and report” samples of disinfection byproducts that it was supposed to analyze in February and May of 2023. The town reportedly collected new samples when it learned of the lab’s oversights, and according to the town’s notice, these results were duly submitted to the appropriate regulatory bodies in March and June of the same year.

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According to Elon’s town manager Rich Roedner, this procedural error nevertheless drew a reprimand from the state agency that oversees local water systems in North Carolina.

“There’s a very tight window for us to submit to the state,” Roedner recalled in an interview Tuesday. “We provided [the results] to the state, but we were already late. So, it was not a violation with respect to the quality of the water.”

This rather anticlimactic outcome may be obscured by some of the fine print in the notice, which includes boilerplate references to things such as “coliform bacteria” and “volatile organic chemicals.” Even so, the operative paragraph indicates that the lab’s errors only concerned disinfection byproducts. Moreover, the town’s subsequent tests apparently found these byproducts to be within the state-mandated limits.

“The [town’s] drinking water met all monitoring requirements with the resubmittals,” the text of the notice contends, “[and] since the above lab errors, the town of Elon water system has not received any additional monitoring violations.”

The notice goes on to conclude that there’s no need for the town’s water customers to do anything in response to the regulatory lapse.

This reassuring message is a far cry from the abundant warnings that the town’s residents received in the summer of 2021, after the discovery of e. coli contamination in Burlington prompted a slurry of “boil water” advisories from that city as well as the smaller municipalities that rely on it for treated drinking water. Elon’s latest notice also casts no aspersions on Burlington’s own water treatment process – as Morgan Lasater, a spokeswoman for the city, was keen to point out earlier this week.

“We have not issued a notice,” Lasater confirmed in an interview Monday, “and our water resources director is not aware of a problem.”


THE PUBLIC ASKS: Have a question about a matter of public record? Call The Alamance News at (336) 228-7851; write to the newspaper at P.O. Box 431, Graham, NC 27253; or e-mail alamancenews@mail.com.

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