CUC: 6-point increase in water contaminants detected

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THE Commonwealth Utilities Corp. has detected a six-point increase in water contaminants in the As Terlaje storage tank, according to a status report filed in federal court by Assistant Attorney General Jose Mafnas Jr., counsel for CUC.

The status report was signed by CUC Executive Director Gary Camacho who said the latest test result at the As Terlaje storage tank was 31 parts per thousand or ppt as of April 13, which shows “an increase of six over the prior test from Feb. 4,” the status report added.

In its previous status report, CUC reported that the lab results of the two wells (IF 108 and IF 22) had been received and they showed that perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFOS was at 25 ppt and perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA was a “non-defect.”

The two wells were shut down by CUC as ordered by the District Court for the NMI Designated Judge David O. Carter during the last status conference in January 2020.

Judge Carter received a report from a U.S. Department of Public Health engineer who stated that “contaminants still exceed the health advisory level in the identified water wells.”

In the latest CUC status report, Camacho said: “Plans are in place to take the next set of samples in late May or early June so that CUC complies with the federal court order to have a test result returned prior to the previously planned trip by Judge Carter around the second week of July.”

That test is still on track, the CUC executive director said, “and we expect to take follow-up set of samples from the As Terlaje tank’s outlet pipe for one additional test once the federal court sets its next visit and we can arrange for the results to be available just prior to [Judge Carter’s] arrival.”

In a health advisory issued on Jan. 8, 2020, CUC reported that it had detected levels of two contaminants, perfluorooctane sulfonate or PFOS and perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion in a limited area for the tap water system of Saipan.

The affected areas included Chalan Laulau, Iliying, Chalan Kiya, As Terlaje, Kannat Tabla, Fina Sisu, Oleai and parts of southern Garapan, Gualo Rai, Susupe, As Lito, and As Perdido.

Camacho said CUC plans to update the advisories next month, in June, “when we have further test results and also to keep the public up to date and on notice to avoid ingestion of water from the tap.”

Camacho said the phase 2 Economic Development Administration grant proposal was still in the development stage.

The proposed grant would fund two four-plex granular activated carbon or GAC units at booster station No. 2 and Isley reservoir, Camacho said.

This will finalize the containment needed to remove all current sources of PFOA/PFOS from the water and would also capture the 13 wells in Koblerville that feed the Isley tank, he added.

He said the last Koblerville wells would require additional plumbing to join the Obyan well flow to the GAC four-plex unit to be situated just before the Isley tank.

In Nov. 2008, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cited CUC in violation of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, the District Court for the NMI issued Stipulated Orders 1 and 2.

SO1 focuses on drinking water issues while SO2 focuses on oil issues such as requiring CUC to repair and replace oil storage and operation infrastructure, manage tank and pipeline facilities, and require spill and emergency response equipment and protocols.

The stipulated orders also direct the parties to provide the court status reports on CUC projects.

In relation to the contaminants PFOS and PFOA found in the water wells, the attorneys general for Guam and the CNMI have filed separate lawsuits against the manufacturers of fire extinguishers that contained the chemicals that contaminated the water systems.

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