Mercury detected in Park City’s drinking water as troubles continue
November 17, 2010
Tests on drinking water in several Park City neighborhoods on Sunday found the level of mercury topped federal standards, the first time mercury has been detected in water from City Hall’s underground sources since at least 2003.
The discovery, reported by City Hall on late Monday, was made as water officials continued to probe the cause of a recent spell of discolored water. Tests in the last 10 days have found elevated levels of other contaminants like arsenic, manganese and thallium.
According to City Hall, mercury levels ranged from between three parts per billion and 16 parts per billion. Drinking-water standards call for mercury levels to be limited to two parts per billion.
The mercury was found in the same neighborhoods where the discolored water was discovered, according to Kathy Lundborg, City Hall’s water manager. The neighborhoods are Thaynes Canyon, Aspen Springs, Saddle View, Iron Canyon and Park City Mountain Resort.
Lundborg said people who drink water that contains mercury are susceptible to "short-term risks." The neighborhoods where the mercury was found in the water were under an advisory to not drink tap water based on the discoloring when the mercury was discovered, meaning that the number of people who ingested the mercury could be very small. City Hall has been distributing bottled water since the discoloring was reported.
Lundborg said people in the neighborhoods are able to take showers at their residences, but she advises them not to drink water from the shower. She said people should not be concerned about washing dishes with the water.
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The EPA says people exposed to mercury above the standards for a short time could suffer kidney damage.
City Hall collected approximately 20 water samples throughout Park City on Monday for testing based on the mercury discovery. Lundborg said she expected results will likely be available on Wednesday. There is no reason to believe the mercury will be found elsewhere, she said.
The type of mercury that was found, labeled as inorganic mercury, is different than the type that is found in thermometers and some seafood.
Officials early in the week were considering several theories that could explain the appearance of the mercury. One of the theories involves a recent changeover in the drinking-water sources.
Lundborg said City Hall recently stopped using water from the Spiro Tunnel as Park City Mountain Resort fired up its snow-making equipment using Spiro Tunnel water. Instead, City Hall is putting more water into the drinking-water system from the Judge Tunnel and Thiriot Springs sources.
The water from Thiriot Springs is more corrosive than the Spiro Tunnel water and could be dissolving buildup containing mercury into the water from the surface of the pipes, Lundborg said. The changeover in the water sources occurs annually, but Lundborg theorizes the Thiriot Springs water may have become more corrosive.
City Hall continues to provide updates about the water system on its website, http://www.parkcity.org.