The Price River Water Improvement District is approached annually by various agencies to evaluate aspects of the Carbon County area's water and evaluate problems that may be arising.
Recently, assistant PRWID manager Jeff Richens attended a meeting that the United States Environmental Protection Agency conducts to explore new and upcoming concerns the federal agency has about the nation's water.
"The emphasis at the meeting was on industrial connections to sewer systems and the types of problems they cause in the treatment process as well as downstream from the system," explained Richens to the PRWID board last Tuesday. "The focus at the meeting was on mercury, but it has been determined there is little problem with that in our area or Utah in general."
Mercury in water has been found to accumulate in human beings vital organs and tissues such as in the liver and heart muscles. Research has proven that mercury can devastate the body's immune systems and can contribute to diseases such as leukemia.
"But while we have little problem with mercury, there are some other areas of concern that they have that are affecting us now and will be affecting us in the future," said Richens. "The first is perchlorate, a compound used in the dry cleaning industry."
Perchlorate is one of a newly recognized group of toxins called endocrine disrupters which can alter hormonal balances and impede human reproduction and development.
Citing the results of experiments on rats and epidemiological studies in Arizona and California, the EPA indicated that perchlorate is dangerous in drinking water at levels above one part per billion.
Most perchlorate plumes in the United States, including the Colorado River, range between four and 100 parts per billion.
EPA scientists' main concern about perchlorate in water supplies focuses on changes found in the brain size of laboratory rat pups exposed to low doses of perchlorate.
The changes in brain morphometry indicate perchlorate's effects may cause permanent neurological damage in rats and people because thyroid systems work similarly in the species.
To date, the EPA has identified 75 perchlorate releases in 22 states, including Arizona, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, New York, Maryland and Massachusetts as well as California. The Colorado River, the main water source for about 15 million homes across the Southwest, contains perchlorate at roughly seven parts per billion, seven times the level that the EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment says is safe.
"There are substitutes for perchlorate in the dry cleaning process and we will be approaching people who use those processes in the county to see if they can switch to some of those alternatives," said Richens during a Monday interview.
Another problem involves chemicals used in industry processes for cleaning.
"There are some surfactant additives that the EPA is becoming concerned about," stated Richens. "In their usable form, they pose no threat, but as they degrade they become toxic. They can affect the microorganisms at the treatment plant and can also affect downstream microbiology as well."
The Carbon area may a problem due to the cleaning associated with heavy mine and construction equipment.
"Those same substances are also in home cleaning products, but we can't do anything about that," explained Richens. "The EPA deals with that at the national manufacturing level. However in use by local industry will be ours to address."
In an unrelated business matter, PRWID manager Phil Palmer expressed concerns about the depth of district lines in the construction area on U.S. Highway 6 between Price and Wellington.
"They are rather shallow in the area east of Hayes Wash," noted Palmer. "There are a couple of alternatives to fix that. One would be to move the bar ditch out away from the lines or to cover them with more fill. We will be working with the Utah Department of Transportation on this problem."
In addition, board member Tom Matthews voiced concern about rising costs PRWID may incur due to climbing gas and diesel prices.
"I think we should talk with various departments about watching budgets on this situation," said Matthews. "We may have to look at equalizing some budgets to cover the costs."
Matthews also asked the staff to research and bring a list of the water shares owned by and/or committed to the district to the next meeting of the board for the members review.