Nineteen months after finding excessive levels of contaminants in the city's drinking water, Cambridge officials formally informed residents of their findings last month.
For the first time since they discovered carcinogenic chemicals in the Cambridge water supply in July 1988, city officials have begun a widespread effort through radio announcements and letters to reveal the results of their water tests to the public.
Though the city had made some attempts to inform the public of the problem in the past months, John J. Cusack Jr., the superintendent of the Cambridge Water Department, said the city's campaign had not been in compliance with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations. Cambridge was fined $19,000 fee by the DEP for its failure to comply to regulations properly.
In a letter to all city residents released in January, Cambridge residents were informed that trihalomethane (TMH), a water contaminant that is thought to be carcinogenic, was found in excessive amounts in Cambridge drinking water since July 1988.
Harvard consumes roughly one sixteenth of the city's total water consumption.
While the maximum concentration of TMH allowed by DEP is one hundred parts per billion, daily readings in Cambridge since 1988 have shown a steady increase from 107 parts per billion 196 parts per billion, said Tony B. Abruzese, a spokesperson for the DEP.
The sodium level in Cambridge water is also well above the 20 milligrams per liter maximum limit set by DEP, but Abruzese said the difference did not pose a health problem.
And Abruzese said that while students may notice that Cambridge's water is less than clear, it is still safe to drink. "Though I can understand why they wouldn't want to drink it," he added.
Cambridge water comes from the Payson Park reservoir in Belmont, where according to Abruzese, the TMH was formed when organic matter mixed with the chlorine used to disinfect the reservoir water, Abruzese explained. The water from Payson Park flows directly into the city's plumbing system.
The city is presently contracting to build a 22-acre roof for the presently uncovered reservoir, in order to reduce the amount of organic matter falling into the system, Abruzese said.
Aside from failing to notify the public of contaminations, Cambridge was also charged with failing to submit a Cross Connection Control Program Plan that would outline the city's plans for dealing with contamination of the water system.