State flags Lucama tap water

Officials: Iron level nearly twice allowable limit

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Drew C. Wilson | Times

LUCAMA — In response to customer complaints and testing data, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Division of Water Resources has issued a notice of deficiency to the town of Lucama citing high iron and manganese levels in the water being sold to residents.

Shawn F. Guyer, assistant regional engineer at the state’s Raleigh regional office, sent the Sept. 28 letter to the attention of Tammy Kessler, town administrator.

“Based on the complainants’ description of longstanding water quality issues, review of compliance monitoring data and review of available monthly operating reports, it appears that the treatment provided is not adequately removing or controlling the concentration of iron and manganese and providing trouble-free, satisfactory water to customers,” Guyer wrote.

The letter asks Lucama to submit a written plan of action to either “demonstrate that the filtration and sequestration treatment is operating effectively to provide trouble-free, satisfactory water” or “provide a written plan of action for permanently removing iron and manganese to below action levels.”

The town must also submit quarterly plan of action status reports to the state. Failure to comply “may result in the issuance of an administrative penalty of up to $25,000 for each day the violation continues.”

“We have had several complaints,” said W. Allen Hardy, engineering supervisor at the state Division of Water Resources’ Raleigh regional office.

Hardy said iron and manganese are not contaminants that are regulated for health reasons but can cause discoloration in drinking water.

Among those complaining to the state was Tiffany Fragoso, who lives on Blalock Road in Lucama.

“I wrote because I work in a lab, and I know how bad this water is and what the elements can do to your body,” Fragoso said. “Iron can cause corrosion in your gastrointestinal tract and into your stomach. Manganese can cause neurological issues not only with the elderly but also with young children. We have a schoolhouse that’s right down the street from us and we have a young son, and we have started to see some issues with him neurologically, behavioral-wise.

“I don’t know that it’s connected, but now, knowing what’s in the water, I have to do something,” she said. “I can’t stand by idly. I will do something, and I will keep pushing until we are heard. We can’t stop.”

Fragoso said her water is not as bad as what she has previously seen, but it still has a yellowish tint to it.

“When it does get bad, a metallic taste is usually the first indicator that something is going bad,” Fragoso said. “Then you start getting the browns, the reds, deep yellows. It is just awful.”


Lucama has received two major funding packages to improve its drinking water, but both are still in the engineering and bid and design phases.

In July 2017, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality awarded the town a $488,990 grant/loan to rehabilitate one of the municipality’s drinking water wells and to install a new filter.

This July, the town received a $2,227,200 grant from the N.C. Division of Water Infrastructure to replace 2,728 linear feet of galvanized distribution water line and make other repairs and upgrades to its drinking water system.

“I do not blame the town at all,” Fragoso said. “I do know we are a small town. We are on the poorer side of Wilson. Not everyone here has money to fix water, to get softeners and systems put in. We are strapped for money to begin with, but with these grants and loans, we should be able to do something.”

Fragoso said she doesn’t think residents are being heard in the town meetings like they should.

“I have gone to a town meeting. I have not yet been able to speak, but I have heard several other people talk about the water,” Fragoso said.

According to Hardy, iron and manganese are common in water from wells east of Raleigh.

“We have quite a few systems that we have notices of deficiency issued for iron and manganese issues,” Hardy said. “I don’t think we have sent letters to anybody other than Lucama in Wilson County.”

Generally, iron and manganese are naturally occurring.

“There can be some irons that are produced from old, rusty pipes,” Hardy said. “You can get some discoloration from that, some iron or iron oxide-type products.”

Iron and manganese are generally what causes most of the complaints the state receives when it comes to dirty or discolored water.

“One of those two minerals is always the culprit,” Hardy said.

Lucama’s iron level is 0.5660 milligrams per liter, which is nearly twice the state limit for 0.3 milligrams per liter. The town’s manganese level is high at 0.037 milligrams per liter but doesn’t exceed the state limit of 0.05 milligrams per liter.

The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t regulate iron or manganese.

“They don’t enforce them as a primary standard, which are health-based,” Hardy said. “They have them in there as a secondary contaminant, and North Carolina thought it was prudent that we put them in our rules so that in case we do have problems with water quality, we can enforce it.

We put them in our rules as a concentration level, or action level. It’s a point at which if you exceed those values, we can make the water systems address it. It was not put in there for health-based reasons. Anything that is a secondary is generally not health-based.”


Keesler, the Lucama town manager, said she is currently working on a response to the state.

Tackling the problem can sometimes be a slow process.

“In some of these situations, it’s huge and very expensive to resolve these problems,” Hardy said.

The town has 30 days to respond to the state’s letter.

“It’s not something they can do in a day or two,” Hardy said. “They may have to look into engineering costs and options and costs and treatments. It can get extremely expensive to resolve some of these iron and manganese problems.”

One filter for one well can cost around $300,000 to $400,000.

“It’s an expense that towns really have to budget for and have to look into and sometimes have to acquire grants and loans to do it,” Hardy said. “Because they have acquired these grants and loans, and in those grants and loans, it specifically calls out the replacement of the media in the filters and to rehab one of the wells. That is what we want them to do.

That is what we expect them to do, to evaluate their filter media and their filters and see if they are still adequate and if they are not, take the necessary steps to repair or replace them. And that is what they appear to have done because they have gone through the process to acquire these grants and loans. So that’s a very positive thing. They have gotten money to do it.”

Local residents who want to see a full breakdown of water tests on Lucama’s water can go to ncwater.org, click on “Public Water Supply,” then “Sampling Status and Drinking Water Watch.” Then click “Drinking Water Watch” and type Lucama where it asks for water system name.