Methow Valley: Families with arsenic in water now on their own

by John Hanron
Methow Valley News


Methow Valley, WA - Nineteen families near Twisp who have elevated levels of arsenic in their drinking water will now have to fend for themselves since government funding for bottled water dried up Oct. 30.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which had been supplying the water to the families near the old Alder Mill, discontinued the service after failing to find definitive evidence linking the elevated arsenic levels to the mill site or any other point source.

The EPAís Superfund budget cannot be used to address contamination from naturally occurring sources.

That leaves families like Tom and Erin Whiteís to fend for themselves. The Whites, who live just yards away from the Alder Mill tailings ponds, have a domestic water supply with more than 500 parts per billion of arsenic. The federal limit is 10 ppb.

"Itís hard to say what to do now," said Erin White. One under-sink water treatment system they tried cut the arsenic levels in half, but left it still 20 times higher than acceptable levels. "Ours is so high in arsenic, but we canít find a system that can get it all out."

The couple and their two young children are now buying about 20 gallons of bottled water weekly to drink, but are not treating the water they use for washing and irrigation.

Doug Hale, with the Okanogan County Health District, said ingestion is the most critical issue.

"There arenít concerns about other uses," he said. "But the levels in the water are still unacceptable for drinking. We very strongly encourage people to look into other sources of water."

Under-sink treatment systems can cost between $1,000 and $1,500, according to the EPA, and another $100 a year to maintain.

Resident Fran Johnson, who lives below the mill on the Twisp-Carlton Road, said she has noticed definite health benefits since she stopped drinking her arsenic-tainted well water and started drinking bottled water last spring. She will continue to buy bottled water until she can spring for an under-sink filter system for drinking and cooking.

But Johnson questions the validity of EPAís conclusion about the source of the arsenic.

"I just donít have any faith in these agencies," she said.

Hale said the EPA is still considering comments it received about the arsenic testing. Meanwhile, with federal money gone, the health district can only help residents figure out what their treatment options are. Some residents may qualify for grants and low-interest loans, he said.

Hale said, tests on wells in the Balky Hill and Bonner Lake areas have produced high arsenic results in an area that has had no mining activity.

"Itís a wider concern than just around mill sites," Hale said. He recommended that people who are "higher in the hills with deeper wells into the bedrock" get their water tested for arsenic.

For more information, contact Hale at (509) 422-7140 or toll feree at 1-800-222-6410.


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