INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued a report Wednesday finding the town of Andrews can cancel its “Do Not Drink” water advisory after shutting down one well and conducting a systemwide flush.
But the town of Andrews responded Thursday, saying shutting down the well doesn't leave enough water pressure to fight fires. There is no timeline for when residents might be able to use the water again.
“Shortly after IDEM instructed the Town to shut down Well 1, the Fire Department ran into problems refilling its tanker trucks due to a lack of pressure,” the letter said. “The pressure was so low that the Fire Department could not even use its garden hose to rinse off the fire hoses.”
The letter went on to say that “the Town is now in an impossible situation because it needs Well 1 to fight fires and serve its residents, yet IDEM has ordered the Town not to use Well 1 because the water is unsafe.”
The town is working on flushing the system without damaging the lines. It has not lifted the “do not drink” order.
IDEM tested the water in nine places Monday after town and county officials barred residents from drinking or using the water on Friday.
Local officials said at that time that water from Well 1 had too much vinyl chloride in it – making it unsafe for residents. Vinyl chloride is a carcinogen, meaning it causes cancer. The town had stopped using that well years ago after complaints about its taste and smell but put it back in operation in May when water levels dropped in the other two wells.
IDEM tested for volatile organic compounds, disinfection byproducts and vinyl chloride – submitting them for emergency analysis.
Well 1 had compounds above the maximum contaminant level and IDEM ordered that well be taken offline immediately and not be used for water supply. The town must come up with a plan for future use and contact IDEM before using that well again.
The town noted that IDEM's lab report shows the vinyl chloride in Well 1 was 15 times higher than EPA and Indiana drinking water standards.
The report found some compounds in supply wells 2 and 3 and in the distribution system but they were under the levels specified in the Safe Drinking Water Act. It suggested the distribution system also be flushed before residents use the water again.
The town of Andrews said it considered moving the wellfield in 2015 to a different aquifer but IDEM opposed the move.
The town on Friday filed an emergency lawsuit in Huntington alleging that local business Raytheon Technologies contaminated the groundwater aquifer by dumping and spilling hazardous chemicals at the factory the company operated in the town.
The suit claims all three wells have been contaminated and one well has increasing levels of vinyl chloride.
Raytheon in the mid-1990s installed equipment called an air stripper to remove the contamination from the drinking water. But the town said the stripper had major problems starting June 6 and Raytheon didn't inform the town.
“During the time it was malfunctioning, contaminated water was potentially distributed through the public water system,” the lawsuit said.
Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, said Thursday that a third-party company Stantec Consulting Services monitors the stripper. He said the equipment is operated electronically and has alarms attached.
“They claim the stripper went down. It was not down according to Stantec's records,” Leonard said. “It was in full operation.”
He noted that while Raytheon pays Stantec for the service the company could be held liable if it allowed residents to drink contaminated water.
A Tuesday letter from Raytheon to the town said the air stripper was down for maintenance on June 4 for less than four hours. There was also a system shutdown of about four hours on June 10 due to a local power outage.
“The remaining alarms and temporary shutdowns which occurred in June (totaling four in number) were caused by the Surge Tank reaching its “high-high level” mark,” the letter said. “These temporary shutdowns were timely corrected by Stantec remotely and without knowledge that the Town had re-activated Production Well No. 1. This re-activation, concurrent with the continued pumping of Wells No. 2 and 3, apparently increased the overall pumping rate at the wellfield and likely exceeded the design capacity of the air stripper.”
The letter said if the town had informed Stantec that Well 1 was back online the town's needs could have been effectively addressed in a manner which did not overwhelm the surge tank.
The episode is the latest in an ongoing legal battle. The town filed a lawsuit in 2016 to get the courts to order United Technologies – now Raytheon – to clean up contamination at the site of the former Dana plant in town.