WAFF 48 Investigates: Is the water safe to drink - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

WAFF 48 Investigates: Is the water safe to drink

Fisherman fish for sport due to water warning. (Source: WAFF) Fisherman fish for sport due to water warning. (Source: WAFF)

How long have toxic chemicals infiltrated the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority? Over the last few weeks, community and environmental leaders have told the public the water is safe to drink, it isn't safe to drink, and it's safe for only certain people.

Earlier this week, the water authority declared the tap water safe to drink. But the mixed message led to confusion and frustration.

We searched the long-term impact of these chemical compounds in the water and covered this story initially last year. This is his latest investigation.

And the story brought us back to where we started in Decatur and on the edge of the Tennessee River. Last year, WAFF 48 News first alerted you to state fishing advisories that warned eating more than one fish a month out of this body of water could be harmful to your health.

And fisherman after fisherman told us they were unaware of the warning. But after our story aired many took that warning seriously and they did so because experts told us PFOAs and PFOSs, the two chemical compounds found with the fish, are a likely cause of major health issues.

The West Morgan-East Lawrence water authority filed a class action lawsuit against some of the companies accused of causing the pollution. And earlier this month, the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority declared the same chemicals found in the fish were also in the water supply. Their message: Don't drink the water.

"Those contaminants have probably been in there for a long time," said Dr. Jim Stoekel. He is an associate professor with the Auburn School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.

His team was hired by a local non-profit environmental group to test the water last October. Our camera rolled as Stoeckel surveyed soil and water samples at nine locations in and around Decatur and they found that at all nine locations the chemicals were present, but weren't above the EPA benchmark.

"We now have an idea of what compounds are where, some idea of their concentrations, but we need to do a better study now on what's there," said Stoekel.  

But a new study means more money. Those initial samples that Stoeckel was hired to take cost over $10,000 to be analyzed. More samples and research would blow that number out of the water. But the Auburn researcher believes it's worth it.

"There's a real need for unbiased studies up in that area. Some good thorough studies bringing some experts in, not necessarily myself but people that are experts in human health issues and some of these other things to take a very qualitative unbiased look at what's going on," said Stoekel.  

And what's going on and what the future may hold has already been studied.

"It may be new in your state but this is not new news that these things are toxic," said Dr. Alan Ducatman.  

Ducatman is a professor at West Virginia University. He’s seen first-hand how the chemicals can affect humans. He's studied PFOAs and PFOSs since the early 2000s and focused his research in the 'Mountain State'.

"Elevated cancer levels for bladder cancer, testicular cancer, perhaps kidney cancer, perhaps colon cancer are some of the concerns," said Ducatman.

Scary? Absolutely. But the professor said this isn't the time to panic.

"When the news hits that something new has been wrong for some time, it's not like your life is different than it was yesterday. What you have is a new perception of a hazard that you didn't know about."

Which led us back to that hazard we first alerted you to last year and the chemicals in the fish. We revisited the same places where months ago fisherman told us they didn't know about the warning but this time it was a different outcome.

"I don't eat fish out of the water," one fisherman told our camera.

"I'm just fishing for the sport of it," said another.

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