Franklin Water Situation Remains Murky

| February 14, 2018

FRANKLIN, Pa. (EYT) – Franklin city officials and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection representatives are working together to correct the recent issues with Franklin’s drinking water.

Nearly a week into the “Do Not Drink Water” warning issued to some Franklin residents in the affected areas of Third Ward, Rocky Grove, and Oak Hill, city officials released more details on what lead to the issue.

According to Franklin City Manager Tracy Jamieson, it apparently started when three separate pieces of equipment at the Barrett Flats Water Treatment Plant all simultaneously failed on or around February 1, 2018, triggering the release of higher than normal fluoride levels into Franklin’s water system.

A release issued early Monday evening by Jamieson’s office noted that the malfunction, “was not discovered until the mid-morning of February 8, 2018. As a result, the fluoride levels exceeded the State’s acceptable levels for fluoride.”

The maximum contaminant level (MCL) in Pennsylvania for fluoride is 2.0 mg/L.

Jamieson explained that the discoloration was part of what made the issue somewhat hard to diagnose, but as it turned out, it was also a key to diagnosing the issue.

“When a high level of fluoride is introduced into the system, it acts as an acid that basically strips any metals it can get to, and the bluish green color indicates copper and aluminum in the lines,” Jamieson said.

The copper could easily come from old copper pipes within homes or running from the water mains to homes, but the aluminum was more unusual. When a higher than usual level of aluminum was noted in the water samples, industrial contamination was considered as a possibility.

The DEP was instrumental in pinpointing the real source.

Their records showed that during the time period when the city got its water from French Creek, it used an aluminum-based coagulant. Some remnants of this coagulant ended up lying dormant in the system years after it was no longer in use. When the high level of fluoride was introduced into the system, it stirred up the dormant aluminum left behind.

The city continues to stress that this is not an emergency situation but simply “an alert about your drinking water and a cosmetic dental problem that might affect children under nine (9) years of age.”

“At low levels, fluoride can help prevent cavities, but children drinking water containing more than 2 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of fluoride may develop cosmetic discoloration of their permanent teeth (dental fluorosis).”

“In its moderate or severe forms, it may result in brown staining or pitting of permanent teeth. This problem occurs only in developing teeth before they erupt from the gums. Drinking water containing more than 4 mg/L of fluoride can also increase your risk of developing bone disease.”

Children under 9 should be provided with alternative sources of drinking water or water that has been treated to remove the fluoride to avoid the possibility of staining and pitting of their permanent teeth.

Residents are able to use the water for laundry and bathing. In fact, they are encouraged to do so to allow the water to turn over more quickly in the system, as flushing the entire system is the main focus for city officials right now.

“It’s just basic dilution,” Jamieson said, “with more water coming into the system. A lot of our sampling has been under 2 mg/L, and the state’s standard is 2 mg/L, however, DEP looks at our average, and it is normally around .9 mg/L, so anything above that they consider elevated, even though it’s below the state level. They want to see us get back to our normal level.”

“The dramatic amounts initially seen in what we call the ‘ground zero area’ have already been dramatically reduced,” Jamieson noted.

Most of the Franklin schools have low levels of fluoride, with the exception of Rocky Grove High School which remain less than 2 mg/L. Still, they are still considered elevated as the average level is considered to be anything under 0.9 mg/L as noted above.

The flushing of the system has also been complicated by another equipment failure.

“The 9th Street treatment plant had a pump break down yesterday (February 12),” Jamieson told, “and that has slowed down the flushing process.”

Jamieson also warned that although many of the more recent samples taken fell below the 2 mg/L state standard, there were still some samples with elevated levels. The city plans to continue flushing the system and taking samples until the levels fall back to within normal local parameters.

The timeline for when Franklin’s water will be given the all clear is still uncertain.

According to Jamieson, the DEP requires water tests with certified results, which take three days to process. Until the city gets two consecutive days of normal results, they won’t be able to go back to the DEP for clearance.

In the meantime, cases of bottled water continue to be available to affected residents at the Franklin Fire Department. Anyone unable to get to the fire department can call the city at 814-437-1485 to arrange for delivery.

This issue is expected to be discussed at the Franklin General Authority meeting on Thursday evening at City Hall.

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