CAIRO — During the second, third and fourth quarters of 2015, the arsenic level in the City of Cairo’s water supply exceeded the maximum level allowed by state and federal regulations.
Cairo is taking steps to correct the problems by building a water plant at the airport. It will be the first plant in Georgia to have arsenic treatment capabilities.
Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton said, “We have been in close contact with the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to address the issue. Our corrective action is to spend an extra $1 to $1.5 million to add arsenic treatment capabilities to our new water treatment plant.”
Addleton said that according to EPD, the levels of arsenic are not enough to be harmful unless one suffers from immune deficiencies. Addleton suggested that people with those health issues might consider drinking bottled water until the problem is corrected. Plans are for the new plant to be online by the end of 2016.
He explained that until 2006 the acceptable level of naturally occurring arsenic was 50 parts per billion (ppb). That level has been reduced to 10 ppb. During the second quarter of 2015, the arsenic level in Cairo was 11ppb. Third quarter was 10.65 ppb. Fourth quarter, it was 11ppb.
The new water treatment plant is a $5 million project funded by a loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA). The city will pay .66 percent interest on the loan for 10 years with a $500,000 loan forgiveness.
A $4.2 million contract was awarded recently to Bates Engineers/Contractors Inc. of Bainbridge for construction of the water treatment plant’s building and pump equipment.
As an additional safeguard, once the new water treatment plant is up, plans are for the old plant to be refitted with arsenic treatment capabilities, according to Addleton.
Addleton described the arsenic treatment system as being like a pool filter.
“It is a proven system and has been used in 300 municipalities across the U.S.,” he said. “(Arsenic in water is) a very common problem in the west. I am very confident in the system.”
Addleton said the problem was discovered when the city began investigating construction sites for a redundant water plant. City officials wanted to put a site on the west side of town but, according to Addleton, “There was insufficient water and a high level of arsenic.”
The site at the airport had lower arsenic and much more water. Two deep wells have been dug at this site and a 750,000 gallon water storage tank has been built.
Addleton explained that the arsenic problem has been on the EPD’s radar for quite some time. Evidently, a topographical feature going through the Cairo/Grady County area, known as the Gulf Trough, is responsible for the high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in the water supply.
“This trough, very much like the Gulf jet stream, developed long ago when the sea levels in Georgia reached this area,” Addleton said. “High levels of heavy metals were deposited there then.”