State analyzing chemical found in soil

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  Residents of a Carter County neighborhood remain without water as state environmental officials begin reviewing results of a test for a chemical substance that disrupted water service last weekend.
  Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) are investigating the source of a substance believed to be a type of solvent that was detected in the soil around a water line on Mays Road. TDEC was notified of the chemical finding by North Elizabethton Water Co-Op officials on Sunday afternoon when the utility's water line supplying the Mays Hollow community lost service.
  "God only knows how long we have been drinking from this," said Frank May, one of approximately 14 Mays Road residents who have had no potable water for drinking or personal use since Sunday.
  Residents of the neighborhood are worried about their water supply and what effect, if any, the solvent might have on their drinking water.
  Mark Braswell with TDEC's Environmental Assistance Center in Johnson City said the office had received back Wednesday afternoon test samples of the substance sent to an independent laboratory. Environmental officials had not begun evaluating the samples to identify the exact type of solvent found.
   Samples were also taken from beneath the road to determine whether the chemical had migrated into soil around nearby residences. Braswell said test results with a quality control component to gauge potential sampling error should be completed later this week.
  A water line buried within the soil where the solvent was discovered may have burst due to effects from the chemical. Braswell said existing water lines around the North Elizabethton system were dated.
  "The piping they had is a type not used any more," he said. "It is very brittle and prone to break anyway."
  May said no one from the district alerted residents to the problem on Sunday. He said the utility gave him and other residents four gallons of drinking water Tuesday night.
  "I had to call Monday and find out something on my own," he said.
  He said the Co-Op officials advised him and his family they could take showers at Keenburg Elementary School between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Wednesday.
   Braswell said North Elizabethton utility was installing an iron pipe to carry water for the neighborhood. He said the solvent was not believed to have entered the water line or supply, but samples of water supplying the area were being taken and analyzed by the state. Braswell said testing samples of North Elizabethton's water supply met state requirements when taken less than two months ago.
  "Between us and the utility we will make sure the water is safe to drink before it is restored," Braswell said. "We are double checking all of our data to make sure we didn't miss anything."
  He added that the department's investigation into the source of the chemical had turned up no suspects or origins thus far.
  The North Elizabethton utility purchases potable water from the city of Elizabethton. The utility is required to monitor water quality for its customers and submit a report to TDEC.
  May said the three days without water was already hitting residents in the wallet. Trips to buy bottled water and Laundromats to wash clothes were adding up, he said.
  "This is getting expensive for us," said May. "You can't wash a load of clothes now for under two bucks