A nearly 300-acre groundwater plume that provides around 55,000 city residents with drinking water may be contaminated, but officials with Indiana American Water say people shouldn’t be concerned about consuming or using the water.
That’s because the utility’s water treatment facility treats all the water that is pulled from the polluted plume and ensure it’s free from vinyl chloride or any other contaminant that might be there.
So how exactly does the treatment plant clean the water to get all those dangerous chemicals out?
It starts with something called an aeration detention tank.
Kirk Kuroiwa, the water quality supervisor at Indiana American Water’s Kokomo facility, said around 60 percent of the water they clean comes from the Kokomo Reservoir, which is fed by the Wildcat Creek. The other 40 percent comes from groundwater.
Whether it comes from the creek or the ground, it all is pumped directly to the aeration detention tank.
Inside the tank, the water trickles down over trays, across which fans blow high volumes of air. The process causes certain kinds of contaminants to evaporate out of the water.
One of those contaminants is vinyl chloride. Kuroiwa said the chemical is known as a “volatile organic compound,” which means it naturally wants to convert from a liquid to a gas.
The aeration process works perfectly for chemicals like vinyl chloride, he said, because it doesn’t take much to vaporize it from the water.
“This just kind of gives it a push to turn into a gas,” Kuroiwa said. “In the first step of the whole cleaning process, these pollutants are getting cleaned out.”
From the aeration detention tank, the water is sent to up-flow clarifiers, which removes nuisance minerals that cause water discoloration, such as iron and manganese, by pushing water through large filters.
After that, the water is stored in huge tanks beneath the treatment facility, where trace amounts of chlorine are added to the water to disinfect bacteria or microbial contaminants that may be present, as required by the EPA.
From there, it’s pumped out and ready for consumption.
Keeping an eye on the whole process are the facility’s plant operators, who have to have three years of training before they get the job.
“It’s almost like going to college to do what these guys do,” Kuroiwa said.
Now that the tainted water plume has been added to the EPA Superfund national priority list, federal officials also will be keeping a close eye on the facility to make sure no pollution ends up in drinking water.
Kuroiwa said that’s a good thing.
“It’s nice to have other cops on the beat, so to speak,” he said.
With a polluted groundwater plume, Kuroiwa said, it’s understandable residents might be concerned about their drinking water.
But, he said, residents shouldn’t worry about it. Worrying about the drinking water is the job of Indiana American Water.
“I work hard and our operators work hard to ensure residents have safe drinking water,” Kuroiwa said. “Being paranoid is my job, because I drink this water, and my family drinks this water.”