Stokes County is taking the first steps toward reducing radium levels in water supplied by the Danbury water system.
County Manager Rick Morris told the Stokes County Board of Commissioners Monday that radium levels in the water supplied by the county continued to hover around the maximum amount allowed by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
“It has been above it enough that we have had to issue notices and DEQ has started giving us instructions on how to deal with it,” said Morris. “It is not going away.”
Director of Public Works Mark Delehant said the current levels were not a cause for alarm, but did need to be addressed.
“It is not anything we want to play with,” he said. “We want to be proactive. I just got the results from the last test and it was slightly over the maximum contaminant level.”
Delehant said radium is measured in parts per trillion and that the amount being found in Danbury water would have little impact on those drinking it.
“A person would have to drink two liters of water per day, every day for 70 years to have any chance of this impacting them,” he said. “But the state is saying we need to permanently reduce the level.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radium is a naturally occurring radioactive metal formed by the decay of uranium and thorium in the environment. Chronic exposure to high levels of radium can result in an increased incidence of bone, liver or breast cancer.
The concentration of radium in drinking water is generally low, but some regions have higher concentrations due to local geology, according to the EPA. The amount of radium allowed in drinking water from community water systems, but not private wells, is regulated by the EPA.
Delehant told commissioners he was already in the process of finding a radium removal system for the Danbury water system, but needed $12,500 to pay for design services to develop the systems for both wells used by the system.
“This would backwash into the sewer system,” said Delehant. “This is a naturally occurring mineral which comes out of the ground and we would be putting it back where we got it.”
Morris said once designs for the systems were obtained, the county would have to decided whether or not to install the systems, noting that such a decision would be based on the levels of radium in tests taken in the next several quarters.
“If we do have to put the system in it is not cheap,” he said. “It would be up to $200,000 if we have to do it.”
But Morris said the county would be guided by water quality requirements, not costs.
“This is not the kind of thing you mess around with,” he said, qualifying that statement by saying it was more of a public perception issue than a health issue. “Even if the threshold is passed the risk to the pubic is super low. It is a perception thing. When you have these issues you need to deal with them and do so in an aggressive way.”
Commissioners unanimously agreed to approve funding for designs for the required radium removal system.
County approves extra funding for Piney Grove detention pond
Commissioners also approved up to $23,000 in additional funding for the county school system to fix a detention pond at Piney Grove Middle School.
Schools Director of Operations David Burge told the board previous funding for the project had been based on a minor repair, but torrential rains in the fall had completely washed out the dam at the pond, requiring much more extensive and expensive work.
“Because of the failure of the underground tank at North Stokes we have already had to take some funding from other projects and moved it North Stokes,” he said. “We really do not have any other projects we can rob from to put this dam back.”
He noted that the pond was required by DEQ and was also used to provide water for fire departments in the area.
Commissioners agree on Dan River drinking ban
Morris told the board he had recently learned that a previous plan to ask the North Carolina General Assembly to ban drinking on the Dan River in Stokes County through a session law could be altered to allow for more local control of the issue.
“I got a call a week ago from a lady who works with Senator Randleman and she said we could do a session law or we could have the legislature delegate the authority to the local board,” he said. “If we did that you would have control of the ordinance you put in place, if you do the session law then any changes would have to go through the legislature. It would give us more flexibility.”
The board unanimously agreed to ask for local control over the issue.
Morris recommended they begin to draft an ordinance for the issue so it can be put in place immediately after the General Assembly takes action on the the matter.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.