GERMANTOWN, Tenn. — It’s been weeks since a diesel spill in Germantown made the city water there undrinkable. Residents were left scrambling for safe drinking water, and even now, five weeks later, some are still not convinced things are safe.
When Germantown water was contaminated with diesel fuel in July, it sent shock waves through the community, and ripples from that wave are still being felt today.
Long-time Germantown residents like Alyse Masserano still refuse to drink the water, not convinced it is safe.
“I do not feel safe drinking the water, “Masserano said. “I have two dogs, Howard and Fred, and they are not allowed to drink the water. I drink bottled water. I cook with bottled water.”
Sarah and Nick Aylward live in the same house but don’t drink the same water. The married couple is divided on whether it’s safe.
“Unless I know with absolute certainty that the water is safe to drink why risk it is my thought,” Sarah said.
“I felt fine with it. And I’ve been drinking it since they said it was okay,” Nick said.
So while Sarah sips from bottled water, Nick turns on the tap and drinks up. But they too have never had their water tested.
“We probably should have, to be perfectly honest,” Sarah said.
That’s where WREG comes in. We have covered the Germantown water crisis since it started and talked to the experts. We wanted to show residents what they could do to get their own water tests.
Our research led us to an online company that performs water tests for homes. Tap Score is a water test done by Simple Lab. You select what compounds you want to test for, mail them water samples from your home, and they email you your test results.
WREG purchased five Tap Score water test kits. We gathered samples from Masserano’s home and the Aylwards’ kitchen sink. Lori and Dr. Wayne Lancaster also allowed us to test their water.
“I appreciate you coming and doing this testing,” Wayne said. “Because for me, it’s like you’re an independent source that is not invested in one way or the other. The important thing is just to find out number one, what is the status of the water now? Is it truly okay and clear?”
“I don’t feel safe. I think it’s a huge risk,” Lori said. “I’ve even told my elementary school son not to drink out of the water fountain at school or to eat in the cafeteria. It’s just not worth the risk.”
Valerie Monismith has been using a reverse osmosis water filter for years at her home, just because of ongoing water concerns, not just the recent spill. But she too would like to know if there is more to fear.
“My main concern is more you know what is the quality of our water because you know our skin is our largest organ of our body,” Monismith said. “And when we’re showering it, when we’re bathing in it, we’re washing our clothes in it. You know our water needs to be healthy for that too.”
Scott Schoefernacker is not just a Germantown resident. He is also the science director for Protect Our Aquifer, where he helps others learn about water issues and become advocates. He says he worked with Germantown early on in the crisis.
“We reached out with questions and, you know, try to push them to say more of what they knew. I was on-site kind of helping,” Schoefernacker said.
His was the fifth house where we took samples and shipped them off to Tap Score. He says with any water testing there are things to be aware of.
“Be aware of the limitations and be aware of what standards they are comparing the results to,” Schoefernacker said.
Simple Lab suggested we do the VOC water test for the Germantown homes. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, things that evaporate easily at room temperature and may be associated with gas and diesel fuel like what spilled in Germantown.
Jess Goddard is the chief science officer at Simple Lab.
“For that specific type of event, you’re going to want to test for these volatile organic contaminants. Because some of them have health impacts,” Goddard said.
Those health impacts include things like liver and kidney toxicity and an increased risk of cancer.
It took about eight days for our test results to come back. Goddard broke down the results.
“The tests that you ran look pretty good,” Goodard said. “In the oil and gas category, we might from a diesel spill maybe expect to see naphthalene or benzene. We didn’t see any of those things, so that could be indicative that we are capturing a clean water sample that isn’t impacted by this spill.”
She says the report is good for the homes we tested, but again, this is only for the VOC tests kit where only the types of compounds for a gas or diesel spill would be detected.
Because chlorine is used to kill any illness-causing bacteria, viruses, or organisms, it is common to find compounds that at higher levels could be considered carcinogenic. Those compounds were in Germantown’s water but at low levels considered acceptable by governmental standards.
We shared the test results with all the homeowners, allowing them to compare their scores with state and national averages.
Masserano was surprised about what was found, even though the numbers were low.
“This is very eye-opening to me to know that there are three known carcinogens regularly in drinking water,” Masserano said. “That’s something I was not aware of and grateful to Channel 3 for enlightening me as to this. I’m still concerned, makes me want to stick with bottled water.”
Lab experts say bottled water may also not be as clean as you think. Their test will also allow you to compare your faucet water to bottled water.
Schoefernacker says the results don’t surprise him.
“It’s been about a month since we smelled anything at the house. and so I don’t anticipate there being any diesel constituents left,” Schoefernacker said.
But he says other types of tests may show more.
“I’m still probably gonna filter my water just for a little bit longer. Until, you know, my family’s comfortable drinking, and I feel comfortable drinking it,” Schoefernacker said. “So it’s been. It’s been a month and a half since the release, so just kind of ease back into it, I guess.”
Simple Lab scientists say water filters are one option for residents. Meanwhile, groups like Protect Our Aquifer want all water departments to be prepared for a spill like the one in Germantown and have preventive measures in place to prevent it.
Protect Our Aquifer says Tennessee didn’t have clear guidance on how to handle a fuel spill like this, so that led to a lot of guesswork and prolonged the crisis. They say that also needs to be fixed.