• Business Business

Community left without safe drinking water for a week following diesel spill: 'I would err on the side of caution'

Consumption of contaminated water can lead to serious health problems.

Germantown bottled water

Photo Credit: iStock

A community in Tennessee is dealing with the aftermath of a diesel spill into an underground reservoir that left many residents without safe drinking water for a week, NBC News reported.

Despite being told that the water supply was once again safe, some are still concerned about smells coming from faucets that may suggest things aren't quite back to normal yet. 

What happened?

On July 20, a diesel spill at a treatment plant that serves Germantown, Tennessee, contaminated the water supply. Fuel was spilled into a reservoir during refueling after being used at the treatment plant following a loss of power caused by storms.

After reports of a diesel smell in their tap water, residents were told to not use it for anything other than flushing toilets, according to The Guardian. That affected 40,000 residents.

On July 27, the city of Germantown announced residents could flush their water system and begin using the water for consumption again, advising homeowners to open faucets and run them for five minutes if no odor was detected.

Why is this still a concern? 

Speaking to NBC News, five residents could smell a gasoline-like odor coming from their home faucets, with some comparing it to turpentine. One said that was still the case despite following guidelines from the city to flush out the system before use. 

Consumption of contaminated water can lead to health problems. According to the city's county health department, it could cause an upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea, while long-term issues include liver and kidney damage. Benzene, a human carcinogen, is also found in diesel.

According to Professor Phillip Scheuerman at East Tennessee State University, the smell of diesel in the water supply should prompt additional testing before being used.

He told NBC News: "I would err on the side of caution and use bottled water and ask the city to come take a measurement."

What can be done to prevent future incidents?

Germantown has been dealing with a series of extreme weather events that have necessitated generator use to provide power for essential local services.

As NBC News noted, storms on July 18 led to power lines being downed, while flash floods and high winds weeks before also resulted in power outages across the city.

While improved local infrastructure will be important to prevent further incidents, the need to take measures to decrease the number of weather events related to increased carbon emissions should also be at the forefront of people's minds.

Some areas in Tennessee have announced ambitious climate goals. According to U.S. Green Economy, Knoxville aims to "cut [carbon] emissions by 50% by 2030 and 80% by 2050," and Memphis intends to "reduce emissions by 71% by 2050."

Join our free newsletter for cool news and actionable info that makes it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider