City’s drinking water safe?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 15, 2003

Should Selma residents be concerned about their drinking water?

Kirit Chapatwala &045;&045; operator of Chapatwala Consultancy, a microbial analysis laboratory in Selma &045;&045; gave city officials and residents reason to wonder about Selma’s water at the City Council’s Monday meeting.

In May Chapatwala conducted a test of drinking water at 30 sites around Selma based on the Selma Water Works and Sewer Board’s list of March testing sites.

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At the council meeting Monday, Chapatwala said that of the 30 sites nine were either empty lots or non-existent addresses. When The Times-Journal attempted to verify Chapatwala’s claim, it found that one of those nine lots &045;&045; 1105 5th Avenue &045;&045; is in fact a valid address.

The Times-Journal was unable to verify the existence of the other eight sites.

In addition, Chapatwala said some sites tested had only one-half parts per million of chlorine. In his report to the council, Chapatwala said that the state requires one part per million.

Chapatwala also said that of the remaining 21 sites, one of them tested positive for coliform. Chapatwala said the report did not indicate whether or not coliform was present in dangerous amounts, only that it was present.

Robert Bridges, superintendent of the water division with the water board, disputed Chapatwala’s findings. According to Bridges, if Chapatwala found coliform at one of the sites, three repeat samples should have been taken within 24 hours &045;&045; a requirement by law.

Bridges said the presence of coliform doesn’t necessarily indicate that the water is unsafe to drink; it just means that an element was found in the water that shouldn’t be there.

According to Chapatwala’s report, one water sample tested positive for both coliform and E. coli. However, when asked if E. coli was found in his tests, Chapatwala said it wasn’t.

Bridges also pointed out that ADEM requires only 0.2 parts per million of chlorine &045;&045; not one part per million, as stated by Chapatwala.

Concerning testing sites that either didn’t exist or were vacant lots, Hicks said errors may have occurred, but that it was nothing more than an incorrect address being entered onto the report.

The March 2003 tests were performed by former water board operator Leonard McCray.

Councilman Sam Randolph took a strongly opposing viewpoint at Monday’s council meeting.

McCray retired in late March 2003, and Bridges said that’s when he took over testing at the 30 sites. Bridges said he also updated the list at that time. No incorrect address on the March 2003 list is on the water board’s current list, according to Bridges. Testing is done twice a month and a sampling site exists in every ward.

Perkins said he plans to ask Hicks to allow water board staff to accompany Chapatwala so that both the board and Chapatwala’s findings can be confirmed or denied.

If the board agrees, Perkins said he would take no further immediate action. If it doesn’t, the mayor said he’ll send a letter to both ADEM and Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor reporting Chapatwala’s findings and asking for direction.

In a letter to the editor in today’s Times-Journal, Hicks reiterated the board’s position that the city’s water supply meets all ADEM requirements.