IREDELL COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Elevated levels of an unregulated contaminant found in the drinking water has resulted in the Iredell-Statesville School Board deciding to provide bottled water to students and staff at Lake Norman High School.
The board took that action on Monday night.
In a press release, the school system gave details of the findings of a recent test of drinking water:
The Iredell-Statesville Schools contracted with an outside agency in December to test water in all the schools within the district. Results were received last week. District administration is satisfied with the test results received from Reliant Environmental. Based on the recommendation of Reliant Environmental and the issued lab report, there was no indication of exceeding North Carolina or Federal (EPA) drinking water requirements.
However, school officials did notice that perchlorate levels at Lake Norman High School were particularly elevated in comparison to perchlorate levels at neighboring schools. School officials are communicating with the lab and with Reliant Environmental to double check the perchlorate levels at Lake Norman High School to be sure we have an accurate reading.
Currently, it is our understanding that perchlorate levels are not regulated in North Carolina, which is why no recommendation was made from Reliant Environmental following these test results. We do understand that some states regulate perchlorate. We will continue to work to understand the deviation in perchlorate at Lake Norman High School. Our desire is to be thorough and comprehensive in our testing to assure our school communities that our drinking water is safe.
Reliant was hired to test the water after lead was discovered in a neighboring school system’s water supply, according to Superintendent Dr. Brady Johnson.
Water in all 36 schools was tested, according to Johnson, and the only one to show the elevated level of perchlorate was Lake Norman High.
“When we got the test results back this week it showed skewed data from Lake Norman High, abnormally high, and we think that there is an explanation, we think that maybe that data is inaccurate," Johnson told WBTV. “This can’t be explained. This is one water line feeding multiple schools and the number from Lake Norman High School was astronomically high compared to the other schools.”
The test results do not reveal where the perchlorate came from or if there is any connection to a coal ash fill that was found near the school.
Perchlorate is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as “a naturally occurring and manufactured chemical anion that consists of one chlorine atom bonded to four oxygen atoms (ClO4-).”
Perchlorate is commonly used as an oxidizer in rocket propellants, munitions, fireworks, airbag initiators for vehicles, matches, and signal flares. It is naturally occurring in some fertilizers, according to the EPA.
According to the agency’s web site, on February 11, 2011, EPA determined that perchlorate meets the Safe Drinking Water Act criteria for regulation as a contaminant. The EPA says that it found that perchlorate may have an adverse effect on the health of persons and is known to occur in public drinking water systems with a frequency and at levels that present a public health concern.
Since that time, EPA says it has been reviewing the “best available scientific data on a range of issues related to perchlorate in drinking water including its health effects, occurrence, treatment technologies, analytical methods, and the costs and benefits of potential standards.”
Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins, in a phone interview with WBTV, said that more testing of the water is necessary, pointing out that the higher level of the contaminant was only found in one school, and not in other schools that are near LNHS.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Atkins said, “they need to find out where they pulled the sample, can they pull another sample, do the numbers still hold?”
Atkins is concerned about the perception that has linked perchlorate with the coal ash and with a thyroid cancer cluster being investigated in the area.
While the EPA does say that perchlorate can cause thyroid issues, it doesn’t specifically say that it can cause cancer.
According to the EPA, perchlorate can “disrupt the normal function of the thyroid gland in both children and adults. In adults, the thyroid plays an important role in metabolism, making and storing hormones that help regulate the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and the rate at which food is converted into energy. In fetuses and infants, thyroid hormones are critical for normal growth and development of the central nervous system.”
Perchlorate can interfere with the human body’s ability to absorb iodine into the thyroid gland which is a critical element in the production of thyroid hormones, according to the agency.
“We want to get the factual information out to the public,” Atkins added. “We’re very confidant in our water supply. It’s safe, it’s tested, it’s above standards, and people can feel confidant to drink it. We take what’s going on very seriously, we are 100% focused and dedicated on finding answers and getting results…”
The school system ordered a water test to be taken on Tuesday, and another test on Wednesday. Dr. Johnson is hopeful that those results will be available before students return to classes following the winter break.
“If this second or third test comes back with that same high level, then we will have to pull in some experts to help us find how is that possible inside that building…it’s baffling and right now we can’t find a good explanation for it," Dr. Johnson added.