December 26, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Water test has Bend, Redmond officials talking

January 3, 2011
December 26, 2010 - Bend Bulletin - Water test has Bend, Redmond officials talking

Water test has Bend, Redmond officials talking

By Molly Black / The Bulletin

Published: December 26. 2010 4:00AM PST

When the report came out last week that Bend’s tap water contained a carcinogen, city officials were scrambling.

It turned out the toxic chemical came from a single sample of an Avion Water company source, which serves a smaller segment of Bend residents, completely separate from the city’s water. And many questions were also raised about the scientific credibility of the Environmental Working Group’s testing.

But that didn’t stop concerns about the possibility of hexavalent chromium contaminating Central Oregon water. City officials in both Bend and Redmond are trying to reassure area residents the water is safe to drink.

“The fact is, our water levels meet all EPA water levels and standards,” said Justin Finestone, communications manager for Bend. “We test for total chromium, which is both chromium 6 (hexavalent chromium) and the other beneficial chromium, and we are always well below the levels.”

The city of Redmond also says that the water in Redmond shows no sign at all of chromium.
“We test our water from the wells, and have never had any detectable levels of chromium,” said David Brandt, Redmond’s city manager. “This group sampled water in Bend, but no one really knows where or how they got it, so it’s all unclear. The levels of hexavalent chromium that were found could have been from traces in the plumbing. It’s just unclear.”

Hexavalent chromium is a toxic form of chromium that can enter the water through erosion from natural deposits, as well as from emissions from the manufacturers of stainless steel, metal plating and wood products or textiles.

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded that levels of this carcinogen under 100 parts per billion are safe, therefore placing Bend’s water, regardless of where the contaminated sample came from, in the drinkable zone.

“If the EPA changes its standards and regulations, then we will adjust our testing to take the necessary measures to deliver safe water,” said Finestone. “If our water isn’t safe, we won’t deliver it. But like I said, our water is safe.”

The city of Bend utilizes an extensive process for testing the area’s water supply, said Steve Prazak, laboratory manager at Bend’s water quality laboratory.

“We test for total chromium and have never had any maximum contamination violation levels for metals, organic compounds, nonorganic compounds,” said Prazak. “It is a very complicated testing process that is not easy to explain unless you do it, but we send off all our testing results to DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) for review and have never had a violation.”

Prazak said he understands why area residents may be concerned with the safety of their water, but stated there is no need to worry.

“First of all, let me just point out that according to what they have put on their website, it appears they (the Environmental Working Group) did not sample correctly,” he said. “There are EPA rules and guidelines that must be followed to make a sample viable. The information that was on the EWG website gives the impression that it was not done correctly. They said they took the sample from the city of Bend, but they did not. They also implied some of the samples did not reach the correct amount of hold time. You have 24 hours from the time the sample is collected to the time of analysis. They said on their website that some samples were outside that window.”

As far as the sampling process is concerned, there are two methods the city of Bend utilizes to test the water, specifically for chromium.

The main testing process, ICP-MS as Prazak refers to it, is complicated but involves using a plasma flame to ionize and draw out the metals.

“This method looks for a lot of metal and possibly harmless chemicals. Get on the periodic table, and you will see most of them,” he said.

If residents are still not convinced about the safety of the region’s water, Finestone encourages them to visit the city of Bend website and view the water reports.

“All our water reports are available on our website, so if people are interested, they can pull that up and view everything that we find in our testing process each time we test,” he said.

“And, if people are still unsure, I know there are quite a few filtration systems that are always an option also.”

Bend was one of 35 cities included in the EWG study to help illustrate what can be found in the nation’s water supply.

The study selected cities in 23 states that had traces of chromium in past water quality reports.

Published Daily in Bend Oregon by Western Communications, Inc. © 2010

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