DPW: Baltimore maintains overall ‘excellent’ drinking water, by federal standards

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Even as auditors have spotted some major waste issues in Baltimore’s drinking water system, the city has some good news: The Department of Public Works’ latest annual report says the city still has very high-quality drinking water.

Published today, the Annual Water Quality Report includes data for microbiological contaminants, water clarity, arsenic, fluoride, chloride, radioactive contaminants and more at the city’s water filtration plants. While the very mention of those toxins may make you squeamish, fear not, as data for 2017 indicates the filtration plants surpassed federal guidelines with flying colors.

Only two violations were found in the category of trihalomethanes, byproducts from the use of chlorine in the disinfection process, at the Ashburton and Montebello plants. Federal guidelines peg the maximum contaminant level allowed for trihalomethanes at 80 parts per billion (ppb); Ashburton recorded its highest level at 94 ppb, and Montebello recorded an instance of 83 ppb. However, the former averaged 48 ppb and the latter 52 ppb, well below the federal maximum.

The report mentions “by-product of drinking water chlorination” as the contamination source for those instances. Such contaminants aren’t known to make people immediately ill, though research has indicated that over time they can cause cancer.

Otherwise, as with past years, the report characterizes the quality of the city’s drinking water as “excellent.”

“We have among the best and safest drinking water in the country,” Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for DPW, wrote in an email. “We are also constantly investing to keep it that way.”

The city wasn’t required to test for lead contamination in 2017, but it is in this year. The most recent tests, performed in 2015, found excessive amounts of lead in two out of 52 water samples, though the overall results still complied with federal standards.

In a release, DPW Director Rudy Chow touted the extensive testing process used for the water system: “DPW’s team of dedicated professionals work[s] around-the-clock to perform nearly 150,000 water quality analyses each year to ensure that we deliver high-quality water to our customers.”

For all of its infrastructural woes, the city has been able to champion its high-quality drinking water in recent years, even getting a nod from one magazine as having the 10th best drinking water in the country.

Still, as we’ve noted before, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t filter what’s coming out of your tap, particularly with the prevalence of those chlorination byproducts.

This story has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Associate Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan is Baltimore Fishbowl's associate editor. He previously covered Baltimore-area news as a web producer for Fox45/WBFF-TV. Before arriving in Baltimore, he worked as an assistant editor for CQ Researcher in Washington D.C., and a reporter for Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. Look for his freelance bylines in Baltimore City Paper and DCist.
Ethan McLeod
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