After Flint, should Arkansans worry about what’s in our drinking water?
Author: Rolly Hoyt
Published: 10:39 PM CST February 15, 2018
Updated: 11:24 AM CST February 16, 2018

After Flint, should Arkansans worry about what’s in our drinking water?

Chapter 1

What started the worry?

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Watchdogs are keeping a close eye on utility companies across the country after the health crisis over drinking water in Flint, Michigan.

Some of those groups have raised some alarm as they point to test results showing dangerous-sounding chemicals. But can they be trusted?

11 News Investigates and went right to the source in central Arkansas to find out about what exactly is in our water and if we should be worried.

A website ran by the Environmental Working Group offers a tap water database. If you plug in Central Arkansas Water or a Little Rock zip code it will give you a report showing eight contaminants that will come out of your tap here. That sounds crazy, right? We went to the man in charge of quality at the large water utility. He said don't worry about what's in your water.

“Arkansas is blessed when it comes to water. We're a water-rich state,” said Jeff Stone, Director of Engineering for the Arkansas Department of Health.

Jeff Stone, Director of Engineering for the Arkansas Dept. of Health

Director of Water Quality for Central Arkansas Water, Randy Easley said, “Central Arkansas Water has awesome water quality. I mean if you compare across the United States, it's almost difficult to find better than CAW.” But the blessings that flow from the tap here don't happen magically. It requires a time-tested purification process involving chemicals.

“One of the things, one of the greatest health innovations in the world has been the introduction of chlorine to water, to drinking water specifically,” said Easley.

Chapter 2

Chlorine & Chloroform

Chlorine kills things like cholera and other microbes that can wipe out thousands of lives in places without clean water. But it also reacts with other things in H2O and that can leave behind some scary-sounding leftovers.

Rolly Hoyt, Randy Easley

“Once you start to treat with chlorine, that starts to create those compounds. Chloroform is one of them,” added Easley. A chemical famous for putting people to sleep in spy movies is in the water here. The law said CAW must warn us, so state inspectors like Jeff Stone make sure they do.

“The safe drinking water act is challenging. It puts a lot of requirements on utilities and they don't always meet everyone,” said Stone. In that effort, the utilities produce an annual report that details when chemicals like chloroform are found.

But outside groups can amplify those reports. The Environmental Working Group website presents a database and explains that these residual chemicals can cause cancer. It often refers people to filters and other ways to fix what they get from the tap. But Easley said don't be alarmed.

“Our grounding limits are the EPA primary drinking water standards. And we exceed those as far as quality,” said Easley. Central Arkansas Water tests its product a lot. “In all of our analytical equipment we've upgraded to the latest technology. And that really helps us detect things on multiple levels,” Easley added.

Chapter 3

Bottom Line

Stone said, “The relative risk from drinking water is much lower than other common activities like driving to work or something like that.” He worries less about what's in the pipes than the pipes themselves. “One of the biggest issues facing water systems right now is decaying infrastructure. Pipes getting old, pumps getting old, treatment plants getting old. Reliability suffers,” said Stone.

Those things will need to be paid for in the future. For now, Central Arkansas Water said you're getting your money's worth despite what those reports may indicate. “We really look at it from a customer service standpoint. Of what's going to be best for our customers and try to help,” said Easley.

The annual water treatment report is available on the Central Arkansas Water website. Smaller utilities often send it to customers or publish it in local newspapers. The next report for 2017 is due from Central Arkansas Water later this spring.