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Martinsburg closes one water treatment plant

Journal photo by Ron Agnir The City of Martinsburg shut down its Big Springs water-filtration plant for testing and evaluation Thursday afternoon.
Journal photo by Ron Agnir
The City of Martinsburg shut down its Big Springs water-filtration plant for testing and evaluation Thursday afternoon.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Big Springs Water Filtration Plant was shut down Thursday afternoon after levels of the chemicals PFOA and PFOS became detectable in the city’s water supply, according to Martinsburg Water and Sewer Director Steve Knipe.

Earlier Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory establishing new limits which affected water systems in Martinsburg, Parkersburg and Vienna.

“There is no threat to the public,” Knipe said. “The limits were lowered nationally and these chemicals became detectable at the Big Springs plant.”

PFOA and PFOS are manmade chemicals used in firefighting foams and the manufacturing of scotchgard, according to Knipe.

The plant, located off the 2000 block of Winchester Avenue, will remain shut down for further testing and evaluation, according to the press release issued by the City of Martinsburg. Prior to the EPA advisory the city-owned plant had been in full compliance with national drinking water standards.

Health advisories are issued by the EPA to provide information on potential contaminants. EPA advisories are non-enforceable and non-regulatory, but provide technical information to state agencies and other public officials.

Knipe explained that the water has always been in compliance, but with the new national change, the chemicals are now detectable and city officials decided to cease operations at the Big Springs plant.

“We are pulling additional water from our Kilmer Springs Filtration Plant to supply the city,” Knipe said.

Knipe said city officials currently do not have a plan to fix the situation.

Mayor George Karos has called an emergency city council meeting for today at 10 a.m. at City Hall. The meeting will be held at the J. Oakley Seibert City Council Chambers.

“The citizens of Martinsburg shouldn’t worry, we have back-up water,” Karos said in a phone interview Thursday.

Karos has invited Chris Thiel of the Berkeley County Public Service Water District, Alan Davis, Berkeley County administrator, members of the Berkeley County Council, and representatives of the district health office. Also invited are representatives from the governor’s office, as well as representatives from the offices of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Capito and Manchin issued a joint statement Thursday afternoon, saying they were monitoring the situation and had concerns about the water quality warning issued by the EPA to Martinsburg, Parkersburg and Vienna.

“We’re very concerned for the residents of Martinsburg, Parkersburg and Vienna in light of the new drinking water advisory issued by the EPA,” according to the joint statement. “Our first and number one priority is to ensure these residents have safe and clean drinking water. We have been in contact with the EPA, state and local officials, and the National Guard, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Staff writer Todd Bowman can be contacted at 304-263-3381, ext. 128 or on Twitter @todd_bowman87.

What is PFOA and PFOS?

PFOA and PFOS are fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals referred to as perfluoralkyl substances (PFASs). These chemicals are used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials, such as cookware that are resistant to water, grease, and stains.

Because these chemicals have been used in a array of consumer products most people have been exposed to them. Between 2000 and 2002, PFOS was voluntarily phased out of production in the U.S. by its primary manufacturer.

Drinking water accounts for a small percentage of exposures to these chemicals. Such contamination is typically localized and associated with a specific facility, for example an industrial facility where these chemicals were produced or used to manufacture other products or an airfield at which they were used for firefighting.

Drinking water systems and public health officials should also promptly provide consumers with information about the levels of PFOA and PFOS in their drinking water. This notice should include specific information on the risks to fetuses during pregnancy and breasted and formula-fed infants from exposure to the drinking water.

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