Local lawyer questions safety of Bloomington water



In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and Bloomington’s 2015 water quality report, attorney Ken Nunn and activist Erin Brockovich expressed concern about the safety of Bloomington’s water.

During the holidays, Nunn contacted the City of Bloomington Utilities with a list of queries about the city’s water supply.

Nunn said he is in contact with Brockovich to 
interpret the city’s eventual reply.

However, neither Nunn nor Brockovich has yet presented information that shows Bloomington’s water is unsafe.

Nunn sent 43 questions about possible 
sewage generators around Lake Monroe, procedures for waste removal and water 
transport, city and county water treatment budgets and any possible contaminants.

He asked, “Are there any structures of any kind that send untreated, raw sewage directly into Lake Monroe?” and whether the city has “estimates as to how much gasoline and oil is being placed into Lake Monroe because of (recreational) boats.”

“They have their own 
agenda, the city does,” Nunn said. “And that’s OK, but 
every once in a while, the government really goofs up.”

Mayor John Hamilton told the public Jan. 14 the level of disinfectant byproducts, which are created when disinfectants react with organic and inorganic material during water treatment, are a cause for concern in Bloomington.

However, Bloomington’s water testing results have improved since last quarter, showing fewer disinfectant byproducts.

Nunn said no matter what he heard from the CBU, he would not use the information to find new clients for a case against the city.

“I’m not doing this as a lawyer,” Nunn said. “I’m doing this as someone who drinks the water.”

Nunn, who is ostensibly concerned about Bloomington’s resources, printed out 43 pages of material from Brockovich’s Facebook page to show “the public’s reaction to the drinking water problem in Bloomington, Indiana, and other 
areas.”

Forty-one of the pages were comment threads from a Nov. 24, 2015, post by Brockovich, which are useless as evidence.

In a November Facebook post, Brockovich expressed concern about trihalomethanes, one of the byproducts of using chlorine to disinfect drinking water.

Colder conditions create naturally lower levels of the contaminant, Water Quality Coordinator 
Rachel Atz said.

According to the Jan. 29 press release from the city, Bloomington’s levels have decreased by 22 percent, reaching just more than 50 percent of the allowed level in a given body of water.

The levels have risen in Bloomington during the last several years, according to the city website.

These levels have occasionally exceeded the recommended amount but have not gone over the maximum allowable 
average.

Lifetime exposure to DBP rates exceeding the maximum allowed level has been linked to increased cancer risk, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Short-term exposure, which could be any length of time from two weeks to several years, could be an issue for vulnerable populations like pregnant women or old and young people.

Atz said CBU would find a solution in three to six months before the lake warms up.

The DBP levels are determined by the yearly average, 
Atz said.

However, Atz said the colder months have historically lower DBP levels than warmer months.

Atz said the “challenge period” comes during July, when weather warms and plants and organic material grow in water sources, and in October, when dead leaves and other plants make their way into the lake.

By the time of year DBP levels rise, the city should be actively reducing any buildup, she said.

The city will conduct monthly water tests in place of required quarterly tests, Hamilton said in the press release.

At the DBP press conference, Hamilton told the public the levels had reached 75 percent of the allowed level in the past 18 months, which means a plan must be made and presented to reduce future buildup.

Hamilton told the public the next steps include bringing in a second water consulting group, updating the public in biweekly water quality meetings and developing a pipe flushing system.

So far, the CBU has begun new training and work regimens, according to the city website.

Atz said though she knew CBU’s legal team was working through Nunn’s request, she did not know exactly how long it would take to compile the information.

The next CBU meeting is Feb. 8 and will update the public on the most recent water quality information.

“I always like to point out that we are meeting all EPA and IDEM regulations so our water is safe,” Atz said.

The name Erin Brockovich was misspelled in an earlier version of the story. The Indiana Daily Student regrets this error.

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