Advisory: Contaminant found in Springfield drinking water


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission wants to assure residents it’s still safe to drink the tap water, and that this isn’t a health emergency.

Springfield residents received a letter informing them that the city’s drinking water failed to meet MassDEP’s regulatory standard for haloacetic acids.

Last year’s increased rainfall resulted in higher-than-normal levels of haloacetic acids (HAA5) in the treated water from Cobble Mountain Reservoir, the main source of the system’s drinking water.

The Commission said they expected this to happen and they’re working on a plan to clean the drinking water.

“We recognized the potential for this issue to happen so we have been working on a whole scale, comperehive facilities master plan for our water treatment plant. This include major treatment upgrades that would eliminate the HAA5 issue.”

Jayme Bartak: Communications Manager, Springfield Water & Sewer Commission

Bartak told 22News they’re planning to spend $70 million to upgrade the water treatment plant to remove the contaminants from the water. They’ll be testing out new treatment processes this fall. Bartak said it will take several years to fully clean the water.

Public Notification About Drinking Water Test Results from the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission

The Springfield Water and Sewer Commission (Commission) is notifying its customers of an ongoing exceedance of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for haloacetic acids (HAA5) in drinking water.

Sample results from September indicated that HAA5 exceeded the limit established by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MassDEP) Safe Drinking Water regulations. The exceedance was not an immediate health hazard and customers may continue consuming and using their water as normal. Customers do not need to boil or filter their water or drink bottled water. If this had been a public health emergency, customers would have been notified within 24 hours.

HAA5 Regulation

HAA5 is regulated because some studies suggest that consumption of water with HAA5 in excess of the MCL over many years (i.e. decades or a lifetime) may result in an increased risk of developing health problems. The MCL set for HAA5 provides a wide margin of protection against health effects.

There is no need to boil or filter water, or to drink bottled water. Customers with very fragile health vulnerabilities or specific health-related questions may wish to consult with their doctors about whether any additional measures are prudent to limit exposure.

Cause of Continued Elevated HAA5

HAA5 forms when chlorine reacts with dissolved natural organic matter found in surface water supplies such as the Commission’s Cobble Mountain Reservoir. Dissolved natural organic matter enters the reservoir from rain and snow running over natural plant matter and soil in the forest.

In 2018, over sixty inches of rain fell in the watershed, about 40 percent more rainfall than in a typical year, following approximately two years of drought conditions. Over half of this rainfall amount fell between September and December 2018. This above-average rainfall greatly increased the levels of dissolved natural organic matter entering the reservoir.

Dissolved natural organic matter is still decreasing from its most elevated levels in 2018, but continues to remain higher than normal. The elevated dissolved natural organic matter levels continue to react with necessary levels of chlorine to produce higher-than-normal levels of HAA5. Chlorine dosage levels are traditionally higher in summer months due to increased water temperatures that promote bacteria growth.

Chlorine has been used to disinfect waterborne pathogens (such as E. coli, cholera, and typhoid), which are considered the largest and most immediate public health risks associated with drinking water, since the early 20th century. While the Commission is committed to complying with all drinking water regulations, protecting the immediate public health and safety of its customers by preventing waterborne illness through proper disinfection is its foremost priority.

Near-Term Outlook

Though dissolved natural organic matter levels are decreasing, the Commission expects exceedances of the HAA5 MCL to continue into 2020. This is in part because the regulatory limit for HAA5 is a running annual average, and elevated results from late 2018 and 2019 will factor into future compliance calculations. The next sampling will take place in December 2019.

The Commission continues to maintain treatment system optimization efforts to reduce the formation of HAA5 as much as possible. These include the use of new coagulants to remove more dissolved NOM, daily review of chlorine dosage levels, and the addition of mixers to water storage tanks to reduce water age. In addition, the Commission regularly conducts flushing in the distribution system to limit the formation of HAA5.

Permanent Solutions

Though decreased NOM levels in the future will reduce HAA5 levels, the Commission has been actively working to permanently prevent the issue from reoccurring since 2015, when it initiated a comprehensive planning process to upgrade the West Parish Filters Water Treatment Plant. While the Commission has regularly optimized the existing plant processes to meet regulatory changes over the years, the plant’s last comprehensive upgrade was in 1974. Regulations related to HAA5 were first adopted in 1998, and revised in 2012.

The planning process is already well advanced and will result in significant plant upgrades that will ensure consistent water quality and regulatory compliance for HAA5. This fall the Commission began isolated pilot testing to evaluate treatment process alternatives to reduce HAA5. This testing will determine the new treatment upgrades that will be constructed at the plant. In addition, the Commission also implemented a detailed raw water sampling program at Cobble Mountain Reservoir to further inform the upgrades.

Upon completion of the pilot testing next summer, the Commission will immediately begin design of the treatment upgrades. Upon approval by MassDEP, a 36-month construction schedule is anticipated.  Cost estimates for the pilot program, project design, and project construction are estimated at approximately $70 million.   

Additional Information

Customers with questions about the public notification or HAA5 should contact the Commission by calling 413-310-3501, or by emailing

More information can be found on the Commission’s website at:

MassDEP also provides information on HAA5 at:

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