7 Investigates: How chemicals infiltrated Craft-Turney Water Supply

Finding out what was in the water, how it got there took investigators nearly four months

KLTV 7 Investigates: Craft Turney Water Supply

CHEROKEE COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Last October, a Craft Turney Water Supply customer showed up at the office on the loop in Jacksonville carrying a bottle of foaming, opaque water drawn from the tap at her residence. The customer said the water burned or irritated her skin, according to the account documented in the newly released report by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Additional complaints were soon documented as well. Ultimately, TCEQ documents show the water supply company failed to maintain normal operating pressure during emergency conditions, failed to issue a boil water notice, and failure to protect the public water facilities from contamination.

Finding out what was in the water and how it got there would take a team of investigators nearly four months. Records show 175 samples were drawn from 45 locations within roughly 20 square miles where Craft Turney operates south of Jacksonville. Investigators also performed an additional 140 field tests.

TCEQ -Craft Turney test sites (source: TCEQ)
TCEQ -Craft Turney test sites (source: TCEQ)

Results showed elevated levels of chlorothalonil in the water at several homes. One location just off U.S. 69, shows four test results listed in the report. The initial test on Oct. 4 shows contaminant at 50.2 parts per billion. A few houses down the road a test reported 101 ppb.

Chlorothalonil is a known ingredient of a commercial product called NexGen, a fungicide and pesticide that Smith County Extension Agent Clint Perkins says is harmful to people.

Craft Turney did not issue a boil water notice, but the report notes “CTW staff stated that they also informally instructed customers in the distribution area of concern area to not use the water.”

TCEQ investigation report details how the chemical is believed to have entered the water supply. A fire hydrant, engineering, and a water main break may each have played a part.

A study by Shaumberg & Polk Inc, a company commissioned by Craft Turney, is included with the investigation report.

But first, some background. Water lines are pressurized to facilitate the flow of water. When that closed system is breached through a broken pipe or even turning on a high-pressure valve like a fire hydrant, the pressure drops. The state of Texas requires a boil water notice be issued if the pressure drops below 20 psi, or pounds per square inch. If the pressure drops too low, guidelines say the system begins siphoning water back, drawing contaminants into the water supply.

“The current assumption is that the potential use of a wide-open fire hydrant reduced the system pressures enough to allow backsiphoning from other service connections resulting in a cross-contamination” the report states.

A hydrant on CR 1538 near Arrington Lumber and Pallett Company is noted in the report.

“While the hydrant was fully open, the area east of the plant was tested and static pressures at the connections were recorded at 23-35 psi. However, static pressures at the highest elevation on Hwy 69 was measured at 0 psi. When the fire hydrant is in use, delivery of water in the distribution system ceases at this connection,” the report states.

TCEQ hydraulic study at Craft Turney WSC (Source: TCEQ)
TCEQ hydraulic study at Craft Turney WSC (Source: TCEQ)

Recommended improvements listed in the report include removing the fire hydrant in question and replacing it with a water storage tank.

Violations are outlined in a letter from TCEQ to Craft Turney WSC Manager Rhonda Briggs that is included in the TCEQ report.

“Due to the apparent seriousness of the alleged violations, formal enforcement action has been initiated, and additional violations may be cited upon further review. We encourage you to immediately begin taking actions to address the outstanding alleged violations,” wrote Ross B. Morgan, water section manager for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Craft Turney Water Sampling results (Source: TCEQ)
Craft Turney Water Sampling results (Source: TCEQ)

A deadline for compliance is to be determined, according to the report.

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