Issues with Falmouth Water: Advisory for Pregnant Women

falmouth waterFALMOUTH – Falmouth water is under question as the town is warning pregnant women to filter the town’s drinking water because of elevated levels of a byproduct of chlorination that could affect fetuses.

“The drinking water is safe for everybody to drink. It’s just that pregnant women should reduce their exposure to it in both drinking and showering during the first and second trimester,” Jared “Jed” Goldstone, chairman of the Falmouth Board of Health, said.

Goldstone explained the issue is due to the fact that the town’s water comes from Long Pond, an open, unfiltered surface water source. In the summer, in particular, Long Pond is susceptible to a build-up of organic matter, which is why chlorination is necessary.

“Falmouth drinking water supply requires higher chlorine to prevent pathogen contamination and the interaction of the chlorine to disinfect the water with this organic matter produces what are called disinfection byproducts,” he said.

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Goldstone said there are recent studies in Massachusetts that suggest there is a relationship between exposures to disinfection byproducts on women in their first and second trimester of pregnancy. The byproducts can increase the risk of pre-term delivery and may cause a reduction in birthrate, he said.

Because those are potentially lifelong effects for the effected infant, out of an abundance of caution, the suggestion is being made about avoiding water use.

The US Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection have a regulation of maximum contaminant level which is averaged over four quarterly samples over a year. Falmouth violated that levelin September 2013. That means that during the year prior to September 2013 a few testing sites in town had averages over the maximum contaminant level.

The town sent out a letter last November to town water customers and have been closely monitoring the levels, he said.

“Because these levels tend to increase during the summer, due to the algae growth in the pond, the health department wanted to let health providers know to tell their patients of the increased risk. “It is a relatively small population that is at potential risk,” he said.

While there is a potential for slight increase in these risks for first and second trimester, Goldstone said, for some reason pregnancy during the third trimester does not seem to be correlated with these risks.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we’re recommending that pregnant women either filter their drinking water through an activated carbon filter and reduce the length of their showers, take cooler showers, because drinking water and showering can increase exposure to these disinfection byproducts,” he said.

Falmouth Town Meeting voted this past spring to invest $50 million in a new water filtration system that Goldstone said will take care of the problem. Construction is scheduled to start on the new water system this fall. It is expected to be online in 2017.