Online Originals: What’s with the water in Martin County

Online Originals

MARTIN COUNTY (WNCT) – Martin County residents are tired of paying for water they cannot use. People often post to social media to share pictures of their water, and of the sky-high rates. One resident is voicing his own investigation into the water issue.

Richard Clayton is a retired public health official with 36 years of experience. He says there may be two carcinogens, or cancer-causing pollutants, in the water.

Trihalomethane is a carcinogen. And dioxin causes all kinds of things, illnesses and what have you. And those two substances could be in the river water.

Richard Clayton

The issue of the water supply stems back from the 1990s when the NC Division of Water Resources put restrictions on groundwater. The county had to switch from the Cretaceous Aquifers because they were being depleted and had to choose another source, which was the Roanoke River. The Martin County Regional Water and Sewer Authority or, MCRWSA, was then formed to manage the transition. In a meeting dated December 6, 2013, Clayton made a presentation about his concerns. But, according to him, he was laughed at.

Minutes Martin County Regional Water and Sewer Authority Regular Meeting, December 6, 2013

His first concern is about the water supply itself. The water intake is near an eddy, or a small whirlpool, near where two guts dump water.

Out of what they call Skuwakee gut, the lower one, a lot of the water comes off the streets of Williamston, and could have pesticides and everything in it, goes in the river. Herring gut then dumps water through thousands of acres of swampland, and if they chlorinate it, it has a high level of trihalomethane in it.   

Richard Clayton

The facility treats water from the Roanoke River from with chloramine for most of the year, to prevent “disinfectant by-products”, which according to the Centers for Disease Control, include trihalomethane.

Nine On Your Side Reporter Victoria Holmes reached out to Martin County Manager and Chair of the Martin County Water and Sewer Authority, David Bone. He stated that the facility uses chloramine, instead of chlorine, to prevent high levels of by-products. The switch from chlorine to chloramine occurred on June 1, 2016, just three months after the plant went online. Below is a snapshot, provided by Martin County Manager David Bone, of THM levels when the plant was using chlorine as the main disinfectant.

Martin County Regional Water and Sewer Authority website

Clayton says another concern are dioxins. He believes there may be dioxins in the water from a paper mill plant that would dump waste from years ago. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, dioxin is one of the few man made substances that are considered a “forever” chemical. Clayton isn’t the only one concerned about dioxin in the Roanoke River. In 2001, the U.S. Geological Survey, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, conducted an investigation into dioxin concentrations. Their results included finding levels above the detection limit.

Results from the USGS investigation on dioxin concentration

Martin County manager David Bone told WNCT in an interview that they have never detected any dioxin in the treated water. But, there may be a reason for that. According to the same study published in 2001, most dioxin concentrations were detected in the sediment of the river, but no dioxin was detected in the surface water. That’s because dioxin can be difficult to detect, even among government agencies like the US Geological Survey, which noted their struggle below.

Results from the USGS investigation on dioxin concentration

Bone says the water meets regulations set forth by the EPA. But, some residents of Martin County, whose water is sources from the Roanoke, are not as convinced. They often take to social media to vent their frustrations.

Bone insists the water is safe to drink. He says he drinks the water from the spicket at work, which is in Williamston.

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