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Water from Summerville, Georgia's Raccoon Creek treatment plant is safe to drink for most people, a water company representative told the public Monday night.

Mike McGill, president of WaterPIO, was hired by the Georgia Rural Water Association to help manage Summerville's ongoing water crisis that has put more than 10,000 customers on high alert. WaterPIO is a public relations company that specializes in communications for water and wastewater treatment companies.

McGill said the health advisory pertains to vulnerable populations: mainly women who are pregnant and nursing, infants and in some cases the elderly.

"When it comes to your cooking and everyday use, for most people, it is safe to use and consume the water," he said.

McGill also said the city's water treatment plant is not the source of the contamination. Testing still has to be done in multiple locations to find the source, he said.

The health advisory involves levels of two chemicals found during water quality testing at the Raccoon Creek plant.

On Jan. 31, the city got a call from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about water quality testing from the plant that showed high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid.

Those manmade chemicals are used to make carpet, clothing fabric, cookware, paper, food packaging and other materials, according to a statement from the city.

McGill said the chemicals are commonly found in everything from chocolate cake mix to dental floss.

The city is insisting that the levels of both chemicals in its water have not increased, but the federal EPA standards for acceptable levels have become more stringent.

EPA standards changed in 2016, lowering the acceptable maximum amount from 600 parts per trillion to 70. Summerville's Raccoon Creek plant registered 98 parts per trillion, and the combined levels of both chemicals in the Goodwin Hill Tank were found to be 92 parts per trillion.

On Feb. 3, water tanks were brought into the city for residents to fill containers with fresh water for drinking. Over 18 pallets of bottled water have been given out to the public, according to the city.

Georgia Environmental Protection Division personnel told city manager Janice Galloway the agency may have found the source of the two chemicals but hasn't confirmed it with her, she said.

"These are chemicals that should not be in your water supply," McGill said Monday night. "However, what you're finding in your water are in minute amounts, and they are not an immediate threat to public health."

City officials said the long-term fix is likely an activated carbon solution at the water treatment plant. The city is looking at potential costs, feasibility and space constraints.

On Friday, Galloway said the fix could cost up to $1.2 million and the process could take up to a year.

The city will continue to distribute drinking water to residents for the foreseeable future.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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