In a letter to Buchtel residents, the Athens County Water and Sewer District warned that the village’s water supply recently violated the maximum contamination level (MCL) for chemicals known as TTHM (trihalomethanes).

Although the letter, which was distributed last month, states that the levels detected “do not pose an immediate” health concern, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency required that the county notify residents in the affected area about the violation.

The average level of TTHM found in the Buchtel water system over the last four quarters was 0.089 milograms per liter (mg/L), the letter states, slightly higher than the “standard” (or maximum contaminant levels) of 0.080 mg/L. (Maximum contaminant levels, or MCLs, are defined as the legal threshold limit on the amount of a contaminant that is allowed in public water systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act.)

“You do not need to use an alternative (e.g., bottled) water supply,” the letter states. “However, if you have specific health concerns, consult your doctor.”

The letter goes on to note that “the levels detected do not pose an immediate risk to your health. “However, some people who drink water containing trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous systems, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.”

Stephanie Morris, billing clerk for the Athens County Water and Sewer District, confirmed last week in an email sent to Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason that a similar letter was distributed this past November.

According to county officials, there isn’t much the county can do about the violation, and the city of Nelsonville is responsible for correcting the problem.

Rich Kasler, superintendent of the Athens County Water and Sewer District, said in a brief interview Friday that the wording in the letter comes directly from the  state EPA. He added that the agency’s wording is somewhat vague in regards to the “many years” of consumption that could lead to health problems.

“They’re (EPA) very undefined on if it’s a problem or not,” Kasler said. He also said that the county is “just a distribution system” for the water and does not have authority to address the contamination directly. 

“Unless we switch our water supplier, there’s not a lot we can do about it,” Kasler said.

Commissioner Eliason confirmed as much in a voice message Friday. “There’s not anything we, the county, can do about it because we’re not the water provider,” he said, explaining that the county purchases the water for Buchtel from the city of Nelsonville. 

“I know they’re (Nelsonville) working on dealing with the issue and with the EPA… but the county’s required to pass that (letter) on because it was found in the sample of the water that we’re re-selling,” Eliason explained.

Kasler said that the city of Nelsonville is considering making changes to its water treatment process but would need state EPA approval before any changes could go into effect.

TTHM, or “total trihalomethanes,” are a group of chemical compounds first identified in drinking water in the 1970s, according to the Water Quality & Health Council, which is self-identified as “an independent, multidisciplinary group sponsored by the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the American Chemistry Council.”

TTHM form during drinking water treatment, and are produced “when organic matter in natural water reacts chemically with chlorine disinfectants,” according to an article on the Water Quality & Health Council’s website.

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