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Local Sierra Club weighs in on water issue

Environmental group wants more-rigorous tests for toxins, pollution

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Recent -- and in some cases, ongoing -- complaints about the taste and smell of Columbus tap water in several neighborhoods have prompted the Sierra Club Central Ohio Group to call for action on two fronts.

Northland resident David Roseman is chairman of the group, which has 3,200 members in 21 counties. He said last week the environmental advocacy organization wants to see laws strengthened that would curtail what's called "nonpoint source pollution."

It also wants a requirement instituted for testing drinking water for the presence of toxins that result from algae blooms.

While Columbus officials have steadfastly maintained the water coming to about 500,000 homes from the Hap Cremean Water Plant on Morse Road is perfectly safe, they announced a plan at the start of the year to spend $600,000 for added carbon treatment of water coming from the Hoover Reservoir. This was after complaints began coming in about tap water having a foul odor and tasting bad, starting in the middle of November.

"In my opinion, by the time you smell or see something obvious, it may be too late," Roseman said last week. "It's definitely an indicator that something's wrong."

Something is definitely wrong, as far as Jessica Gore is concerned. The Clintonville resident was among those who turned to the Sierra Club Central Ohio Group after feeling the city's response to the water issue has been inadequate.

Around the middle of December, Gore said last week, she began experiencing abdominal cramping and diarrhea.

Her husband, Nicholas Gore, had similar symptoms, but not as severe. Their 2-year-old didn't appear to be affected, she said.

"I definitely noticed that it smelled and tasted funny even before that," she said of the water coming into her home.

On Jan. 1, after family members who visited for Christmas had complained about the smell of the water, the Gore family switched to bottled water.

"By the next day, the next morning, I was completely fine, no symptoms," Gore said.

A few days later, she added, she rinsed a piece of fruit with tap water and ate it wet without thinking about it; the symptoms came back.

Gore turned to the Clintonville Discussion Forum on Facebook and discovered others were also unhappy with the taste and smell of their water, although she said a neighbor of hers hasn't had any complaints.

Roseman said the water at his Northland-area home, which is among those served by the Hap Cremean facility, has been fine.

Spurred on by realizing others were in the same boat, Gore said she began trying to get city officials to look into her particular problem by calling 311, thinking her concerns would be forwarded to Columbus Public Health. After several missed appointments, she said, someone from the water quality assurance lab came to her home Jan. 23 and took a water sample. The following day, Gore said she was told everything was OK.

"Basically, all the things they normally test for were showing up normal and safe and fine," she added.

But Gore, who now has a "heavy-duty" water filtration system in place, is troubled that city personnel aren't testing drinking water for the types of toxins that result from an algae bloom.

"I'm fairly certain that's what was making me sick," she said.

Such testing is exactly what the Sierra Club Central Ohio Group wants to see happen, according to Roseman.

"Periodic testing or no testing at all, which is quite common, prevents our water providers, aka the city of Columbus, from being aware of issues that could trigger public notices or a do-not-drink advisory," he said. "The issue creates a lot of uncertainty about the safety of public drinking water."

The organization also wants to see more steps taken to decrease runoff from fertilizer and animal waste from farms, and to keep pollution from failing septic systems from entering the original source for public drinking water, he said.

"The question is, what's causing it in the beginning and how do we prevent it so we don't go to this expense or through this again?" Roseman added.

"It's left me feeling a lack of confidence in the response from the city and their interest when a citizen comes to them with a problem," Gore said.

"Even if I didn't contact the right department, I was talking to someone involved in this issue and I was basically brushed aside. ... I knew that I wasn't going to get a lot of help. These are the people who are supposed to be protecting our water. I'm just feeling a little bit let down."

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