With nearly 3,800 residents, the city of Ballinger, Texas is a small community of business owners, farm workers, and skilled tradesmen. Located in west Texas, Ballinger’s tap water reputation precedes itself.
“Whenever I was a kid we’d drink [the water] out of the garden hose,” says one Ballinger resident, “and everyone says, ‘We grew up through lead paint and survived just fine,’ and I don’t know maybe not.”
Skepticism over the city’s water supply didn’t happen overnight. There have been other times where state-mandated water testing, forced city leaders to inform the public that the water might not be the safest to drink. Most recently, a letter posted to the city’s website showed that the drinking water being supplied to customers ‘had exceeded the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL).’
Trihalomethanes are a group of volatile organic compounds of volatile organic compounds that are formed when chlorine, added to the water during the treatment process for disinfection, reacts with naturally-occurring organic matter in the water.
The letter goes on to read:
Some people who drink the water containing trihalomethanes in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidney, or central nervous systems and may have an increased risk of getting cancer.
Water analysis of Ballinger’s city water for the first quarter of 2018 contained 0.098 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of trihalomethanes. The limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is 0.080 mg/L. The letter concludes with a contact name and number, Randy Everett. And that’s where this investigation begins.
Everett is the interim city manager and Water Treatment Plant Manager for the city of Ballinger.
“Off and on, our little city will exceed that limit,” says Everett, “you have to disinfect raw water when it comes into the water treatment plant.”
Every quarter the city must take measurements from their two test sites. Everett says, that organic matter in the raw water, reacts with the main disinfectant – chlorine, and triiodomethane form. Each time the MCL exceeds the legal limit, the city is forced to send out letters. But Everett says there are limited changes he can make to how the letter reads.
“We can inject what we’re doing to solve the problem, all the rest of it is written by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) we have no control over it,” he explains.
After KIDY released a trailer of the interview with Everett, more and more people agreed to meet with our investigative team on camera to share their personal stories of the water. Stories like that of, mother Monica Hagel.
“We don’t drink it,” says Hagel, “we bathe in it and wash clothes. We don’t even boil it for cooking.”
As more residents agreed to talk on camera, the stories became more and more personal. One woman, who we’ll call Maria because she wanted to remain anonymous, described how the water was when she lived there.
“You’d go to flush your toilet and it leaves that stain around the toilet,” she recalls, “because of the way it comes out.”