Water treatment system eyed

Howell board
will act to install
system at 3 schools

By kathy baratta
Staff Writer

Howell board
will act to install
system at 3 schools
By kathy baratta
Staff Writer

Howell school administrators will install water treatment systems at three schools in the Ramtown (southern) section of the township after receiving notification about the area’s water quality.

Gene Tanala, chairman of the Board of Education’s Buildings and Grounds Committee, confirmed to the Tri-Town News that the board will be going out to bid this month on the purchase and installation of water treatment systems for Howell Middle School South on Kuzminski Way, and the Ramtown Elementary School and the new Greenville Elementary School, both on Ramtown-Greenville Road.

He did not have an estimate of what the water treatment systems will cost. He said students will be provided with bottled water and hand sanitizers until the water treatment systems are installed.

Tanala said the water treatment system installation, which he expects will be completed by month’s end, are being done in light of a recent notice from the Parkway Water Co., a private firm which serves about 1,800 customers in the Ramtown area, including the three schools.

Parkway’s July notice informed customers that recent testing of the company’s water detected alpha radiation or radio-nuclides exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) accepted containment levels.

However, according to Sherri Altiere, assistant general manager of the water company, the gross alpha radiation levels detected in Parkway’s water supply were never elevated to five times the accepted norm as previously reported, but instead exceeded the norm by more than five picocuries per liter of water, which is the unit of measure used to register the presence of the radiation.

The radium 226 and 228 levels, the ones linked to certain cancers, exceeded state-accepted levels by 1.3 picocuries at the highest level detected over a year’s worth of testing.

Parkway Water’s notice stated that in addition to its 1,800 customers, all Howell residents who rely on well water are at risk for the contamination because they are all served by the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer which runs under most of central and southern New Jersey.

Parkway Water’s notice informed customers that certain minerals are naturally radioactive and can emit a form of radiation known as alpha-radiation. According to Parkway, these contami­nants do not pose an immediate public health threat, but the firm states that "long-term, chronic exposure is believed to increase the risks of certain cancers."

Michael Howell, president of the Howell Water Treatment Company, was the professional brought in by the school board to advise administrators as to what type of treatment systems will need to be installed at the three south Howell schools.

Howell told the Tri-Town News that the raised levels of the naturally occur­ring contaminants can be attributed to increased lime and fertilizer use, as well as "the movement of the earth brought about by development."

Howell said that in recent years this problem is being detected more and more throughout the state as develop­ment continues unchecked.

According to a published report in The Philadelphia Inquirer, within the last year officials in Washington Township, Gloucester County, had to spend $8 million to construct radium-removal plants to deal with the problem of radium contamination in public water wells.

Howell said when earth movers ex­cavate the ground, the soil breaks loose rocks and minerals and activates the ra­dioactive elements in the soil.

Parkway Water’s notice stated that some people could be more vulnerable to contaminants in drinking water than others. This includes immuno-compro­mised people with cancer, those under­going chemotherapy and people who have undergone an organ transplant, as well as people with HIV, AIDS or other immune system disorders.

The notice also stated, "some elderly [people] and infants can be particularly at risk from infections. These people should seek advice from their health care provider."

Barker Hamill is chief of the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). He has also termed the radiation contamination found in Parkway’s wells as a naturally occurring phenomenon.

Hamill called the contamination "a widely scattered problem throughout the aquifer," referring to the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer. He said the radiation contamination is not an acute problem that can cause sickness from daily ex­posure, like bacterial contamination in water can.

Parkway Water’s notice gave the EPA maximum containment ex­ceedance level for radioactivity in drinking water a 1 in 10,000 risk of de­veloping a fatal cancer if two liters of water per day were to be consumed for 70 years.

Parkway Water’s notice advised cus­tomers against switching to alternate water supplies at this time due to the "extremely long exposure time needed to reach the level of risk set by the DEP."

Altiere has said she anticipates the level of radionuclides present in the wa­ter will be reduced to acceptable levels within one year.

Hamill said the incremental risk over the next two years is "minimal." He, too, said he would not recommend Parkway’s customers seek a new water source.

However, according to the DEP’s Internet Web site, which was revised in May, it is recommended that if gross al­pha levels detected exceed 15 pic­ocuries, which Parkway’s water did at one point, having a detected range of 9.8 and 27 picocuries over the course of the year’s testing, a water treatment sys­tem is "recommended."

The DEP states, "For the average home, this is usually the most feasible and cost-effective method of reducing radioactivity in drinking water."