News Feature | February 7, 2018

Claim: Alabama Drinking Water Spurs Kidney Problems

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Clean water advocates in Alabama say drinking water quality is so poor in Morgan and Lawrence County that ratepayers are developing kidney problems. Water utility and health officials deny those claims.

“The concern comes from tracking contamination in the Tennessee River and collecting reports of health problems from the area. Local utility companies have fired back claiming the water is safe,” WHNT reported.

Decatur Utilities, a major water provider in the area, says the drinking water it serves is clean.

“Decatur Utilities has absolute confidence that we are providing safe, clean drinking water to both its retail customers within the City of Decatur as well as wholesale customers,” the utility told WHNT.

Scott Harris, the acting State Health Officer for the Alabama Public Health Department, said there is no known threat.

"We don't know any places that continue to have elevated of PFCs at this time," Harris said, per the report. "At this time, based on the information we have, we don't know of a public health problem that is related to those chemicals in the water."

Advocates with the group Warriors for Clean Water differ on that point. The group is lobbying the U.S. EPA to crack down on polluters into the Tennessee River, an important water source in the Alabama.

“Warriors for Clean Water claimed at a press conference [in January] to have uncovered evidence of increased rates of kidney cancer and other illnesses in areas served by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water and Sewer Authority and Decatur Utilities, and urged residents in certain zip codes served by those utilities to buy and use bottled water instead,” Alabama Media Group reported.

The backdrop is that the region has faced challenges related to perfluorinated compound (PFC) contamination.

“[Two] utilities were notified by the U.S. EPA in 2016 that their water had levels of PFOA and PFOS that could cause human health problems, but both utilities eventually came into compliance with the new health advisory standards set by the EPA,” the report said.

The U.S. EPA issued a health advisory in May of 2016 about PFC exposure as various cities wage high-profile battles against the compounds, including Hoosick Falls, NY, the Philadelphia suburbs, and factory towns across the country.