The Commerce Journal

December 3, 2012

Commerce shuts down pump station due to high nitrite levels

City warns that infants, pregnant women should use alternative sources of water

By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — High nitrite levels from a Commerce pump station have resulted in the pump being shut down for further testing and a warning from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the city of Commerce on the dangers the water presents to young infants.

“High nitrite levels is something you run into in rural areas,” Commerce Utilities Director Bryan Creed said. “We’re working on it and we’ve contained the source of the problem.”

While the levels do not affect most users, infants under sixth months who drink the water can develop what is commonly called Blue Baby Syndrome which could result in serious illness and, if untreated, death.

According to TCEQ, boiling the water is not effective in reducing the level of nitrites. The TCEQ recommends that children under six months of age, as well as pregnant women, use alternative sources of water for drinking and cooking. At this time, according to TCEQ, the health effects to fetuses of pregnant women are unclear. Creed said that Commerce’s water levels were below maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for nitrites three months ago.

“We have five wells in the pump station, so we’re going to pull samples of our own to determine where the nitrates are coming from,” he said. “If we can rectify the situation, we’ll put the well back on line. If we can’t, we’ll have to abandon the source.”

Abandoning the well would be a significant cost to the city.

“It would be a blow for us to abandon an asset and would probably cost us millions to replace,” Creed said.

While the pump station has been shut down, there is still some of the affected water in the water system, something Creed says the city will rectify by flushing the system.

“We’ll test the wells one at a time to find the source,” he said. “It will probably take 2-3 weeks for us to get concrete knowledge of the situation. I seriously doubt we’ll lose capacity in all of our wells, but we might lose one.”

Nitrites are used in fertilization, Creed said, which can explain their presence in rural areas. According to Creed, if Commerce residents notice that their water tastes differently, it is because they are now drinking water from the service station instead of groundwater from the wells. There is no information that suggests that high levels of nitrites affect pets.

The results were part of routine testing mandated by the state but paid for by local cities.