COLUMBUS, Ind. – The City of Columbus has shut down two wells indefinitely following a Call 6 Investigates report questioning a chemical found in the drinking water.
The chemical, known as 1,4 dioxane, was found in higher than recommended levels in five Indiana water systems including two in central Indiana-- the City of Columbus and Southwestern Bartholomew Water, according to data analyzed by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Following Call 6 Investigates report in September, Columbus City Utilities worked to find the source of the contaminant by testing plants, wells, finished water, as well as untreated water.
This week, the utility released a new report which shows positive results for wells 14 and 15 , which are located in the southwest portion of the well field area .
The utility took the wells out of service, and they will remain switched off as they “evaluate the situation and attempt to uncover the source of this contaminant.”
After taking the affected wells out of service, tests show water leaving the treatment facility tested below detection limits for 1,4 dioxane.
“The water has always met public drinking water standards,” said Keith Reeves, city utilities director told Call 6 Investigates Wednesday. “We have decided as a community system to err on the side of caution and discontinue the use of these wells. Water was safe. Water is safe.”
More than 21,000 customers in Bartholomew County drink the water from Columbus Municipal Utility and Southwestern Bartholomew Water.
The Environmental Working Group classified 1,4 dioxane as an industrial solvent and a likely carcinogen that can increase the risk of cancer.
The EPA’s recommended level is considered 0.35 parts per billion, which is a level also endorsed by EWG as a benchmark to protect public health.
However, Indiana does not have a state-specific drinking water limit for the contaminant, according to the Columbus utility.
“There is an apparent disagreement between the EWG and the EPA on what defines a safe level,” said Reeves. “As mentioned in our report, there is a wide range of concentration levels that different states agencies and other describe as safe.”
Records show in 2013, water at the Columbus Municipal Utility and Southwestern Bartholomew Water measured at 0.482 parts per billion.
The Columbus utilities participated in a one-time national program which tested for unregulated contaminants between 2013 and 2015.
At the time Call 6 Investigates raised questions in August, it was unclear what the current levels of 1,4 dioxane were in the Columbus water systems. The Columbus water utilities had not tested for the contaminant since 2013.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently has no requirement for water systems to continue testing for the chemical.
There’s also no enforceable, legal limit for 1,4 dioxane either, which means the federal government can’t require water systems to reduce the concentrations or even continually test for the chemical.
Southwestern Bartholomew Water purchases all of their water supply from the city utility.