HANCOCK COUNTY — Lead. Copper. Arsenic. Sodium.

Those are some of the contaminants that can be found in Hancock County’s drinking water, but city officials say there’s no need to panic.

Small amounts of impurities pose few health risks to consumers, a fact water utility officials have worked to highlight in recent months after a lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, drew national attention.

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Hancock County has two community water systems, one in Greenfield and one in Fortville, neither of which reports contaminant samples exceeding limits set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to keep consumers safe.

The EPA requires water system operators to monitor more than 80 drinking water contaminants and to report any detected in water samples in an annual report.

Lead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is one of the most dangerous contaminants found in water and a top concern for residents who call in with questions about the city’s water quality, said Charles Gill, Greenfield water superintendent.

Lead is especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women; it can cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system, impaired hearing, learning disabilities, short stature and behavioral problems, according to the CDC.

Historically, Hancock County’s community water systems have met, and at times exceeded, federal regulations. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows no Hancock County water system has tested over the EPA’s lead limit during the past three years, the time period for which data is available.

That’s not to say the water is pure.

Consumer confidence reports from both Greenfield Water Utility and Fortville Water Works show contaminant levels, including lead, in their water supplies, but they fall below the mark the EPA says poses health risks to residents.

The 2014 Greenfield water quality report — an update is due to be released this year — shows that water samples tested positive for 14 contaminants.

The 2015 water quality report for Fortville shows 12 contaminants were detected.

Though small amounts of contaminants, including lead, were detected in both municipal water systems, the systems met state and federal drinking water health standards, and the water is safe to consume, the reports show.

It’s important residents know what’s in their water so they can make informed decisions for their families, said Gill, especially in light of the water crisis in Flint.

The EPA requires system operators to sample water at customers’ taps. Should 10 percent of samples from customers’ taps exceed the federal limit of 15 parts per billion, operators are required to advise residents and take action to control corrosion.

In Flint, levels as high as 150 parts per billion were detected, making the water undrinkable, the The Associated Press reported.

In Hancock County, levels of 1.3 parts per billion were detected in Greenfield water in 2014. In Fortville in 2013, levels of 5.7 parts per billion were detected, the report shows.

Generally, when water leaves the treatment plant, it’s lead-free; it can become contaminated as it enters homes that have lead service lines and plumbing, Gill said. To keep lead contamination at a minimum, the city treats its water with phosphate, an element that helps keep lead from leaching into the water by creating a protective coating on lead piping, Gill said.

In Fortville, a majority of the town’s infrastructure is made from cast iron and PVC. The town has little to no lead piping, said David Thompson Fortville water and wastewater superintendent.

Homes built after 1986 typically don’t have lead pipes and plumbing, according to the EPA, making lead contamination unlikely in newer homes.

Other contaminants found in both water systems included arsenic, copper and fluoride.

Arsenic typically enters drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices, according to the EPA. The EPA set maximum arsenic levels at 10 parts per billion to protect consumers from the effects of long-term exposure to arsenic, which can cause cancer.

In Greenfield, levels were detected at 1.5 parts per billion, while Fortville detected 1.3 parts per billion.

Copper typically enters the water supply through household plumbing corrosion, the EPA states. A trace amount of copper in a person’s diet is healthy, according to the CDC, but too much copper can cause some health problems.

Water systems often add fluoride to water because it promotes strong teeth and prevents tooth decay in children and adults, the CDC reports.

Water officials encourage residents worried about whether their drinking water is safe to have it tested. Hancock Regional Hospital has a water laboratory that runs bacteria tests for $35 and lead tests for $40, said chief operating officer Rob Matt.

Gill said his department closely monitors contaminant levels to ensure the water is always safe for residents to drink. His goal is to make Greenfield’s water utility a top water system in the state.

“This is a personal mission for me,” he said. “This is my hometown. I drink the water. My daughter drinks the water.”

Pull Quote

“This is a personal mission for me. This is my hometown.”

-Charles Gill, Greenfield water superintendent, on water quality

At a glance

Hancock Regional Hospital has a water laboratory that tests water for bacteria and lead. 

Water samples can be tested from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the Hancock Regional Hospital Lab, 801 N. State St., Greenfield. On Fridays, water samples must be dropped off before noon.

The cost for a bacteria test is $35, and the cost for lead testing is $40.

For more information, call 417-468-4424.

To learn more

Consumer confidence reports, which detail what contaminants are found in the water you drink, are available online.

Here’s where to find Hancock County’s reports.

Greenfield Water Utility: Visit greenfieldin.org. Click on utilities, select water utility from the drop-down menu.

Fortville Waterworks: Visit fortvilleindiana.org; a link to the report is available under the new documents feature.

What's in the water?

A handful of contaminants were detected in Greenfield and Fortville water supplies when last tested.

Greenfield:

  • Arsenic 
  • Barium 
  • Fluoride
  • Nickel
  • Lead
  • Copper
  • Nitrate
  • Haloacetic acid
  • Trihalomethanes
  • Sodium
  • Chlorine
  • Molybdenum
  • Strontium
  • Dioxane

Fortville:

  • Copper
  • Lead
  • Chlorine
  • Haloacetic acid
  • Trihalomethanes
  • Arsenic
  • Barium
  • Fluoride
  • Nitrate
  • Beta/photon emitters
  • Gross alpha
  • Uranium
Author photo
Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.