drinking water

Nicole Erwin / Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky’s Public Service Commission released results of a months-long investigation into high rates of water loss in certain rural water districts. The findings point to systematic financial and managerial challenges facing rural districts, and solutions would likely require sweeping legislative change.

The PSC launched its investigation in March after 11 rural districts, most of them in eastern Kentucky, drew the commission’s attention for water loss rates exceeding 35 percent. High rates of water loss indicate leaky pipes, which in addition to raising a system’s operating costs, also expose customers to infiltration of untreated, potentially dangerous groundwater into the pipes.


Film still courtesy Focus Features

The new film “Dark Waters” depicts the real-life story of the 20-year battle waged by attorney Rob Bilott against chemical giant DuPont.

We meet Bilott, played by Mark Ruffalo, as a young corporate defense lawyer living in Cincinnati. His grandmother, who lives in Parkersburg, West Virginia, gives his phone number to local farmer, Earl Tennant. Tennant lives next to a landfill where DuPont had been dumping a chemical called C8.

In a scene from the film, Tennant, played by actor Bill Camp, shows Bilott around his farm, where his cows are dying.


Ryan Van Velzer

Half of all the public drinking water systems tested in a new report from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet are showing evidence of PFAS contamination.

These chemicals belong to a class of more than 5,000 compounds often called “forever chemicals” and are known to increase the risk of cancer, among other health problems.

Researchers found the highest levels and the highest rates of detection in drinking water systems that pulled from waters connected to the Ohio River. State officials say that’s most likely because of the amount of industry near the waterway. In Louisville, researchers detected three PFAS compounds at two different water treatment plants, according to the report.

Red Bird Mission

Communities across the Ohio Valley are among an estimated 2 million Americans that do not have consistent access to clean drinking water and basic indoor plumbing, according to a report published Monday by two nonprofits, DigDeep and the US Water Alliance.

The report titled, “Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States,” synthesized data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, including its American Community Survey, to identify six areas of the country where access to clean water is lagging. That includes some communities in Appalachia, which the report lists among six “hot spots” for inadequate water access.

“From all the data sources we looked at, we know at least 2 million people in the U.S. don’t have access to running water or a working flush toilet,” said George McGraw, founder of DigDeep. “But we also know because of some errors with the census that the number is probably much higher than that.”


Flickr/Creative Commons/Joost Nelissen

Tap water delivered by more than 2,000 water systems across the Ohio Valley contain pollutants, many harmful to human health, even though they mostly meet federal drinking water standards. That’s according to a newly-updated database released by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization. 

Millions of residents in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia are being exposed to small amounts of chemicals and contaminants, including those linked to cancer, the group found. 

“Just because your drinking water has passed federal standards or it gets a passing grade, it still might pose risks to your health,” said Tasha Stoiber, a senior scientist with EWG. 


Glynis Board I Ohio Valley ReSource

Executives from three major chemical companies — DuPont de Nemours, Inc., The Chemours Company and The 3M Company — testified for the first time to Congress about widespread contamination from the group of nonstick, fluorinated chemicals broadly called PFAS.

The so-called “forever chemicals” persist in the environment, are linked to ill health effects, and have been found in numerous water systems in the Ohio Valley.

The hearing — the third on PFAS contamination by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Environment — explored the extent to which companies that make PFAS chemicals knew about its impacts on human health and the environment and how they should be held accountable.  


Becca Schimmel

If you don’t know exactly where the Tompkinsville water plant is you probably won’t be able to find it.

I drive past a high school, over a bridge and take a left into a narrow driveway. Down the hill, a small gray building comes into view. Walking up the road is Jonathan Shaw, the supervisor of this small water plant. He said he’s proud to be the one responsible for delivering clean, potable water to the people of Tompkinsville.

 

“I tell people all the time...I say I’m the water boy,” Shaw said.  


Becca Schimmel

The screen door of a now vacant house swings open on a windy but sunny day on Wyndcrest Drive in Daviess County.

 

The large front window of a place one couple called home for 50 years is gone. Inside sits a single chair and some forgotten decorations on the wall. This house is in the middle of an area prone to repetitive flooding.

 

Daviess County Emergency Management Director Andy Ball has another name for it.

 

“This is what we like to refer to, us and the county engineer, as the 'cereal bowl' of the neighborhood,” he said. “This is where all water, once it starts slowing down and backs up...this is where it all kind of flows out of the creek. This is the worst area down here.”


Flickr/Creative Commons/Joost Nelissen

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it will move forward with a series of actions to regulate toxic fluorinated chemicals, including proposing drinking water limits by the end of this year. But environment and public health advocates say that timeline is unacceptably slow given the health risks and extent of contamination.

In its long-awaited “PFAS Action Plan,” EPA laid out a series of actions to address the widespread contamination of fluorinated PFAS chemicals.

Those chemicals include PFOA, or C8, which has been detected in several water systems in the Ohio Valley. The chemicals were used in a variety of products, including non-stick cookware, stain resistant clothing, and flame retardants.


Sydney Boles

Jason Walker spends $50 per month on bottled water. He spends three hours each week standing by the small stream that runs near his house, pumping creek water into a thousand-gallon tank.

“You have to catch the creek at the right time, when it’s clear,” Walker said. “Whatever you pump, whatever the creek looks like, is what you’re going to pump, and that’s going to pump right into your house.”

Walker, 31, used to get water from a well he shared with his mother, Sherry Walker, who lives next door. But they noticed changes after mountaintop removal mining started nearby.


Toxic “Teflon” Chemicals On EPA Regulatory Agenda

Sep 10, 2018
Wikimedia Commons

Environmental Protection Agency officials told a Congressional panel Thursday that the agency will announce by the end of the year whether it will take the next step to regulate a group of toxic fluorinated chemicals found in some water systems in the Ohio Valley.

The PFAS group of chemicals, which include PFOA or C-8, were widely used to make nonstick products and flame retardants and have been detected in at least 10 water systems in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. Exposure has been linked to a number of health effects.

EPA’s Director of the Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water, Peter Grevatt, told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that the agency will decide if some of those chemicals should be declared “hazardous” under federal law.


Creative Commons

Kentucky’s aging drinking water and sewer systems need billions of dollars in investment to prevent system failures impacting public health and the environment, according to Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Current investments aren’t enough and the state needs nearly $15 billion in additional infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years, said Deputy Cabinet Secretary Bruce Scott to the Senate standing committee on natural resources Monday.

“We have to make an investment, we cannot avoid making the investment in water and sewers and dams,” Scott said. “The only real question is when.”

Lisa Graves-Marcucci, Environmental Integrity Project

Curt and Debbie Havens’ ranch style home is the gathering place for their family. Their two boys grew up playing in the streets in this quiet neighborhood in West Virginia’s northern panhandle. Now, their grandchildren do the same.

“They played ball, all kinds of games,” Debbie recalled during a recent interview. Family photos and knick-knacks line the walls. One heart-shaped sign reads “May love be the heart of this home.”

“Everybody wants to come to grammy’s and pappy’s,” she added.


Benny Becker

A water system in eastern Kentucky that was on the verge of collapse could soon get much needed improvements. Many Martin County, Kentucky, residents were without water for long periods this winter. The crisis drew attention amid a national discussion about infrastructure priorities, and put a spotlight on the sort of water woes that are all too common throughout Appalachian coal country.

Now nearly $5 million in federal funding is on the way to patch up parts of the Martin County system. But the flow of federal money comes amid lingering concerns about management and spending by local officials, and questions about how Martin County’s water system got into such a state of disrepair.