Nancy Montgomery | May 29, 2012 | Stars and Stripes | Shared as educational material
HEIDELBERG, Germany — A chemical contaminant and suspected carcinogen has been found in unacceptable levels in the drinking water at some parts of Naval Air Station Sigonella, the Navy said, and people there should not drink from the tap.
Water contaminated with bromate was found at three sites, officials said: NAS 1, NAS II and Niscemi. Those areas encompass schools, a hospital, commissary, barracks and a hotel.
No elevated bromate levels have been identified in water at Sigonella’s main housing site, Marinai, which has a separate water treatment system, said Naples-based spokesman Lt. Timothy Hawkins in an email. He said that the source for the affected areas of NAS Sigonella was ground water.
Bottled water was being handed out at the ITT parking lot at NAS 1, and the NAS II Chapel parking lot twice a day, three days a week, according to the Navy. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 7,000 liters of bottled water had been distributed, including to the galley, restaurants, Child Development Center, school cafeteria, Naval Hospital, and affected personnel, Hawkins said. “Bottled water will continue to be distributed as NAS Sigonella awaits re-confirmation that the water problem has been corrected,” Hawkins said.
The bromate contamination was discovered after a routine test May 17, the Navy said. Test results showed that the water exceeded the maximum contaminant level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA sets the maximum level at 10 micrograms per liter. But the Sigonella water had bromate levels between 52 and 170 micrograms per liter, the Navy said.
The Navy said chemicals used to disinfect the water were suspected to have caused the problem. “We have not confirmed the cause,” Hawkins said.
The Navy said in order to return the bromate to acceptable levels it was reducing the amount of chemicals used to “the minimum necessary for disinfection” as well as using different lots of the chemicals. Officials were awaiting repeat test results to see whether that fixed the problem. Hawkins said he did not know what chemicals were being used.
“Bromate at the levels measured does not cause any symptoms,” the Navy said. “However, bromate is classified by the World Health Organization as a possible human carcinogen and by the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] as a probable human carcinogen.”
Some people who ingested large amounts of bromate had gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, or experienced kidney effects, nervous system effects and hearing loss, according to a New York state Health Department fact sheet.
“However, these people were exposed to bromate levels many thousand of times the amount that would come from drinking water at its standard,” the fact sheet said.
People with specific health concerns were being advised to consult their doctors or U.S. Naval Hospital Sigonella Medical Home Port at 335-578-8077.