Chapel Hill News

March 18, 2014

OWASA testing new water treatment tools

Orange Water and Sewer Authority officials will test two new chemicals over the next several months at the Jones Ferry Road water treatment plant.

The Orange Water and Sewer Authority will test two new chemicals over the next several months at the Jones Ferry Road water treatment plant.

Ken Loflin, water supply and treatment manager, said the changes should improve the water quality and make treating it safer for employees. OWASA is testing the chemicals first to make sure they perform as needed when the changes become permanent, he said.

Customers shouldn’t notice any change in the water’s taste or smell.

The first, three-month test is scheduled to start soon. OWASA employees will replace their normal aluminum sulfate with ferric sulfate, which causes dirt and other particles in fresh water to clump together better.

“We make the particles as big as we can and filter them out,” he said.

The change should produce a cleaner taste and smell, Loflin said. It also can reduce the amount of disinfectant being used, he said.

The second test, in April, will study the effects of a liquid ammonium sulfate for two months. OWASA has used ammonia hydroxide and chlorine in drinking water since 2002 to reduce the levels of byproducts that form when a disinfectant reacts with organic materials. Research show those byproducts can be harmful at high levels.

While chlorine and ammonia are safe when combined in water, if the ammonia hydroxide ever leaked into the atmosphere, it also could become a gas and pose a significant risk to OWASA employees and the community, Loflin said.

Most communities, including Durham, already made the switch to both ferric sulfate and ammonium sulfate, Loflin said. In fact, OWASA is one of only three water treatment plants in the area that doesn’t use ammonium sulfate, he said.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is being updated about the testing plans, officials said.

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