BIDDEFORD — More than 32,000 households in the Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough areas may have experienced elevated chlorine taste or smell in their water, but the water is safe, say Maine Water Company officials.

A text message sent Monday to Maine Water customers said that extra chlorine was increased temporarily to tap water over the weekend as a safety precaution because of heavy rain, snow melt and runoffs affecting the Saco River. The company operates 544 miles of water mains in southern Maine and draws water for treatment at 11 facilities from the Saco River.

“Your water is safe to drink and in full compliance with all regulatory requirements,” the text message sent to customers Monday morning read. “We expect the water will clear the system within the next 24 hours.”

It’s estimated that Maine Water serves about 80,000 residents across the state, in 21 towns and has been in business since 1880.

The company reported on its website that chlorine levels have been returned to normal and that the water remained safe to drink at all times.

“We apologize for any inconvenience,” the text message read. “Please call 1-800-287-1643 with questions.”

Some local water customers say they are upset by the way that Maine Water Company handled the situation.

“Why did they wait several days to notify us about this,” said David Pittman of Saco. “If they could put out a text message on Monday, why couldn’t they have done this over the weekend when they started doing it.”

Pittman said he learned about the elevated chlorine from a neighbor Sunday who told him that the water smelled funny.

“Somebody should have told us something,” he said. “This isn’t a Flint, Michigan situation, but the company does have a responsibility to let its customers know what’s going on right away.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires treated tap water to have a detectable level of chlorine to help prevent contamination.

According to the national Water Quality & Health Council, allowable chlorine levels in drinking water up to 4 parts per million pose “no known or expected health risk including an adequate margin of safety.”

It says chlorine-based disinfectants can provide lasting protection from waterborne diseases throughout the distribution system from the treatment plant to the consumer’s tap and that more than 98 percent of U.S. water supply systems that disinfect drinking water use chlorine.

However, the “American Journal of Epidemiology” contains one of a number of studies that report excessive chlorine disinfection byproducts are responsible for a national increase in rectal and bladder cancers and that the presence of chlorine in tap water could be been linked to a dramatic rise of heart disease in the United States.  Scientists also argue that chlorine is a primary cause of the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Last week, the Kittery Water District announced it will begin adding chloramines as a drinking water disinfectant starting in April. Chloramines are a group of chemical compounds that contain chlorine and ammonia also used to disinfect tap water, but could cause problems for residents using kidney dialysis machines and caring for tropical fish. The Kittery Water District said the decision to use chloramines resulted from a treatment plant renovation project, which brings its required water compatibility into accord with the adjoining York Water District and the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water Districts.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]

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