Local News

Johnston County Woman Left Confused About Safety Of Drinking Water

Posted July 5, 2005

— Thousands of homeowners receive notices every year about problems with their water. But how do they know how serious the problems are and whether their water is safe to drink?

It can be a complicated issue for some, and getting answers may not always be easy.

Marlene DePretto deals with her water problem by using bottled water. She told WRAL that no one can explain her problem to her.

"I'm not trying to be a scientist or figure this out," DePretto said. "I just would like some answers because of health."

When increased levels of uranium and radium were detected in her water, her water company, Heater Utilities, sent notices to 250 homes in her Johnston County community near Garner.

While the letter said there was no immediate risk, all the scientific data made DePretto feel uneasy.

"When you're talking radioactive to me, it's very scary and I'm not an alarmist," DePretto said.

So, she called every number listed on the letter, as well as other local agencies, but said she never got any answers.

"Nobody knew anything about it," DePretto said. "They promised to get back to me but nobody has."

WRAL made several calls to Heater Utilities and also had trouble getting information. The state, however, told WRAL that Heater had fixed the problem last year.

"They have taken the wells, two and four, off line that had contamination in it," said Allen Hardy, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

While DePretto's water is not coming from the contaminated wells, she said it was not mentioned in the letters she received -- something the state said it might have to investigate.

"We can question it and tell them they need to make further clarification," Hardy said. "That's something we might need to look into."

Even though DePretto was told that her water is safe to drink, the experience leaves her skeptical.

"You know, we're paying for that service and we're not getting the answers and we're not getting any help," DePretto said.

Heater Utilities said it sent out a letter in June stating the contaminated wells were not in use. But DePretto said she never received it.

Last year alone, nearly 41,000 people across the state received a letter regarding radium problems. Stricter standards by the Environmental Protection Agency are making warning letters more common.

The letter, however, refers to specific violations and should not be confused with the EPA's annual drinking water report that explains where drinking water comes from and what contaminants it may contain.

Although EPA rules do not apply to private wells, the agency recommends well owners have their water tested annually.

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