Water company’s upgrades include UV treatment to prevent diarrhea

MUNCIE, Ind. - A new kind of treatment is going into the water of three central Indiana communities to help keep residents safer. Ultraviolet disinfection is expected to be in place in Kokomo, Muncie and Richmond by the end of 2019.

Each central Indiana community gets its at least some of its water supply from surface water, which can contain potentially harmful pathogens that can cause people to get sick.

Indiana-American Water Company manages the water utility in the three cities.

"It's an extra layer of protection against something that are resistant to chlorine at times," said Joe Loughmiller, the spokesperson for the water company.

The director of the Muncie Sanitary Bureau of Water Quality said the new treatment process will attack cryptosporidium, which can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses that can cause people to have watery diarrhea.

"The presence of cryptosporidium, which is what they would be targeting, is very reasonable to assume they would be collecting that in their water intake," Rick Conrad, the director of water quality said. "It’s very common from sources like livestock, agriculture activities, leaky septic systems. We have lots of those upstream from Muncie."

Conrad and his office collect water samples nearly every day from the White River in and near Muncie.

He said the powerful light can kill pathogens that chlorine can't.

"Cryptosporidium is unique in that they have a little shell that projects them and keeps the chlorine out," Conrad said. "With ultraviolet disinfection, those light rays are able to penetrate that shell and essentially breaks their DNA."

In Muncie, construction is already underway to build a chemical building that will house ultraviolet radiators that will treat the water. The water company has committed $23 million in upgrades to the water treatment facility.

In Kokomo, an $11 million upgrade includes constructing a new facility.

A new $45 million facility is being built in Richmond.

"We’ve done testing and we are meeting new regulations by installing this ultraviolet disinfection," Loughmiller said.

The projects will also include changing chlorine treatment. Right now, workers use a gaseous chlorine, which could put workers and people nearby in danger if an accident occurs. The company is switching to a liquid chlorine, or sodium hypochlorite.

Loughmiller said the company serves more than 50 Hoosier communities and none of them have had customers get sick due to cryptosporidium, but it has happened in other cities across the country.

It's the first ultraviolet treatment projects for the company in Indiana.

All the work should be done by the end of 2019.