Safe to drink?
A recent discovery of thallium traces coming from discharge areas of the Cliffside Steam Station does not affect any public drinking water supplies in the region.
The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) reported samples collected from an inactive coal ash basin at Cliffside showed above-average traces of the toxic metal. The tests were conducted as part of statewide tests at all coal ash basins in North Carolina.
Cleveland County Water receives its water from the First Broad River and Knob Creek. However, after the drought of 2002, the City of Shelby, Cleveland County and Cleveland County Water ran an emergency water line out of the Broad River. Cleveland County Water Manager Butch Smith said that line is only used in the event of a major emergency.
“Unless it’s a drought, it doesn’t affect us,” Smith said.
Cleveland County Water does provide water to parts of Cliffside — mainly along Cliffside Road — but Smith said none of that water has been impacted by events at the Cliffside Steam Station.
Maria Hunnicutt, manager of the Broad River Water Authority, said the water they pull from to provide drinking water to customers comes from a different location than Cliffside.
“Our intake is much further upstream,” Hunnicutt said. “The issues have really not affected our supply.”
The intake is on the Broad River but the treatment plant for Broad River Water is on Baber Road in Rutherfordton.
Hunnicutt said Broad River Water does provide water to the Grassy Pond Water District in South Carolina — downstream of the Cliffside Steam Station. She said Grassy Pond also purchases water from Gaffney (S.C.) Public Works.
Another major water supplier in Rutherford County is the Town of Forest City which provides water to the town as well as to Ellenboro and areas east of Forest City.
Town Manager John Condrey said the town pulls its water from the Second Broad River, not the Broad River.
However, the town had discussed the possibility of adding an intake at the river and Forest City does own property near RiverStone on the Broad River. Condrey said there has been some work in preparation for a possible intake on the Broad River.
“There are no immediate plans for that as of right now,” Condrey said. “We have a water plant with millions of gallons of excess water.”
The main concern with any discharge into the Broad River would be downstream into South Carolina. With Broad River Water providing water to the Grassy Pond Water District, the next affected water supplier would be the Liberty, Chesnee, Fingerville Water District, which serves over 6,000 customers in northeast Spartanburg County.
Nancy Cheatwood, assistant manager for Liberty, Chesnee, Fingerville Water District said they purchase their water from the Spartanburg Water System.
“They do the testing of the water for purification,” Cheatwood said.
According to Chad Lawson, spokesman for Spartanburg Water, there have been no issues with water quality.
“Water utilities are constantly testing and anything that shows up we have to report,” Lawson said.
Spartanburg Water System’s coverage area includes all of eastern Spartanburg County and areas of Cherokee and Union counties.
According to its website, most of the water distributed by Spartanburg Water comes from Lake Bowen. None of the water supplied by Spartanburg Water comes from the Broad River.
The release of thallium at the Cliffside Steam Station was reported by DENR last week. According to DENR, the base of inactive coal ash basin No. 5 revealed 0.35 parts per billion of thallium. The national criteria suggests 0.24 parts per billion is acceptable. Another test closer to the Broad River indicated thallium levels of 0.13 parts per billion — much lower than than the national criteria.
“We are talking about an area where the sample had not met the river,” said Susan Massengale, spokesperson for DENR. “At that point, we saw those lower levels of thallium.”
While the tests at the No. 5 coal ash basin revealed thallium, Massengale said two other samples taken from the other four basins showed no indications of thallium present. She said further tests were being completed to determine any potential long-term effects of the thallium release.
Hunnicutt said, no matter what the tests may show, the release of thallium is something to take note of.
“From an environmental standpoint, as well as water quality, it is concerning,” Hunnicutt said. “I care about the public water supply for the people in the region.”