Drinking water is safe on Beaufort's military bases, utility says

Beaufort's three military bases are in no danger of experiencing the kind of water contamination that mighthave caused hundreds of illnesses at Camp Lejeunein North Carolina, says Dean Moss, general manager of the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority.

"It could never happen here," Moss said of water contamination issues at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune caused by dry cleaning solvents that seeped into the base's groundwater for about 25 years.

BJSWA has provided water to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and Naval Hospital Beaufort since 1965. The bases previously pulled their drinking water from wells on Parris Island and in Shell Point, but water from those wells became increasingly salty and undrinkable, Moss said.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a part of the Environmental Protection Agency, is conducting a study at Camp Lejeune to determine whether drinking water laced with two toxic dry cleaning solvents -- perchloroethylene andtetrachloroethylene -- is linked to hundreds of reported illnesses in those stationed to the base. Those illnesses include non-Hodgkins lymphoma, kidney disease and male breast cancer, an illness that effects less than 2,000 men a year, according to the American Cancer Society. Authorities say improper disposal of the chemicals by an off-base dry cleaning business caused the contamination.

The Savannah River is the primary source for the water authority's two treatment plants, each sending about 24 million gallons of water a day to customers in northern Beaufort County, Jasper County and portions of southern Beaufort County.

Moss said the gamut of tests for bacterial and chemical contaminants conducted by the authority, the state and other agencies safeguard against such a widespread and toxic contamination of the area's water supply. The authority routinely tests water samples taken from the Savannah River, the treatment plants and other sources throughout the area for lead, copper, nitrates and various bacteria.

"What happened at Camp Lejeune was a completely different situation than what we have here," Moss said. "There you had chemicals leaking into the groundwater over a series of years that was either going undetected or it was detected and they continued to serve it, anyway. Here, something like that would be impossible."

Moss said the authority also spends about $10,000 a year on a wide-ranging test of the river's water quality, checking for more than 70 chemical contaminants, including those derived from pesticides, insecticides, pharmaceutical and personal hygiene products.

Maj. Gabrielle Chapin, spokeswoman for Parris Island, said the base shares Moss' confidence about the quality of their water.

"(The authority) has a rigorous program of sampling and analysis to ensure the high quality of our drinking water here at Parris Island," Chapin said. "Additionally, our Navy Preventive Medicine team are aggressive in inspecting and testing water fountains, ice machines and any other water source to ensure that there is no contamination."