Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley issued a statement Friday night saying the water issues impacting some parts of northern Alabama were “not a crisis,” despite one utility advising its customers not to drink their tap water.
“Based on my current understanding, I am confident that there is no health-related crisis based on the water quality of the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority,” Bentley said in a news release. “I believe every citizen should have safe water to drink.”
The issue arose on May 19, when the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory for man-made chemicals PFOS and PFOA, stating that lower concentrations of those compounds than previously thought could lead to health problems over time.
As a result, the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority advised its customers not to drink the water from its taps, which had been tested at concentrations above the new advisory threshold.
Bentley said that decision was made without talking to his office or other relevant state authorities.
“After consultation with the State Health Officer, Dr. Tom Miller, and the Director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Lance LeFleur, it is apparent that a local decision was made which effectively turned an advisory into a regulation,” Bentley said. “My office, along with ADPH and ADEM were not aware that this decision was being contemplated prior to it being announced.”
Miller said the ADPH’s health advisory is still in place, which recommends that expectant mothers, women who are breast-feeding or infants who use formula mixed with water consider avoiding tap water. That advisory did not recommend that the general population avoid tap water.
“The EPA’s health advisory was based on concern for possible health effects due to exposures to perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooactanoic acid (PFOA) over a certain level during a person’s lifetime and not on acute or time-limited exposures,” Miller said. “EPA based its decisions on laboratory studies in rats and mice as well as a review of information from groups of people known to have been exposed to PFOS and PFOA in certain areas of the country.”
Don Sims, the general manager of the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority, said that he did not want to tell some people that the water was safe and others that it was not.
“I would rather be over-cautious than under-cautious,” Sims said. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a chemist, but when they tell one class of people the water is not safe, I don’t want to be the one to say ‘you drink it and you don’t.’
“So I said nobody drink it.”
LeFleur said that ADEM would continue to work with the water authority to ensure safe drinking water.
“Through a strong partnership with the Alabama Department of Public Health and federal agencies, we will continue to monitor any potential hazards related to perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water in the West Morgan East Lawrence Water Authority and other water systems throughout Alabama,” LeFleur said.