Sam Norton

A&E Editor


If we are what we eat then we are what we drink. If it were 1992, before Keene’s Water Treatment Plant became operational, we would be copper. According to the city of Keene’s website, before the Water Treatment Plant went into effect in 1993, the public made complaints of a “metallic taste.” This metallic taste is attributed to the acidic nature of Keene’s water that would be corrosive to the copper water pipes in homes, according to the city’s website. As the water would pass through the pipes, it would dissolve bits of copper, giving it the metallic taste that the city of Keene was once accustomed to. However, this familiar metallic taste is recognized again by the city of Keene.

Water, Water, Everywhere! from The Equinox on Vimeo.

emily fedorko / photo editor Some students say they have detected a metal taste in the water on campus.

emily fedorko / photo editor
Some students say they have detected a metal taste in the water on campus.

According to Donna Hanscom, assistant public works director, the quality of the water, since the Water Treatment Plant has been operational, has been consistent throughout the years. However, Hanscom said that the city has recently received complaints about the water tasting like metal.

“We have had some complaints recently that we are working on right now. Some people in the last three weeks have complained that they smell an unusual smell in their water. We are doing some work on that right now to figure out what is causing that,” Hanscom said, “We tested everything we thought—this is the first time we have had this problem in almost 20 years.”

Benjamin Crowder, water treatment facility manager, said that the water was tested for Methylisoborneol (MIB) and Geosmin–while MIB was not detected, Crowder said that Geosmin was detected. According to Microbac Laboratory Services’ website, Geosmin is an organic compound that is responsible for the earthy smell often associated with fresh-turned dirt. Geosmin and MIB are compounds that are produced by some species of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and actinobacteria (a group of gram positive bacteria). Crowder said that both MIB and Geosmin can cause odors. And the Microbac website reports that Geosmin and MIB have extremely low odor thresholds to humans. Crowder said that the amount of Geosmin that was detected is a very low concentration and is not harmful to the public.

Dave Gordon of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), said “There can be some metals like iron and manganese in the water and if something is in there high enough then there could potentially be health effects, but there are drinking water standards for taste and odor which say that the water can have a metallic taste, but it’s not a health risk, it is an aesthetic taste.” Junior Molly Alderman-Person said that when she first arrived at Keene State College she thought the water tasted like metal. “I’m from New Jersey and the water tastes completely different here,” Alderman-Person said. The metallic taste of the water has prompted Alderman-Person to use Brita filters to help remove the taste.

Crowder explained that because the water sits overnight in copper pipes, the water becomes stagnant. To avoid this, Crowder said that students should flush out their water in order to remove the metal taste. According to the 2012 Water Quality Report, the city of Keene water system had a routine water sample test positive for Total Coliform in September of 2011.  Total Coliform is the starting point for determining the biological quality of drinking water, according to the NHDES. This test is considered to be an indicator on whether or not there are disease organisms present in the water, the NHDES states. These organisms are found in soil and they do not involve a health risk, NHDES states.

When traces of Total Coliform were found in Keene’s water system, the Water Quality Report states that a repeat sample was collected at the same location; however, no source of bacteria was detected.

But according to a new rule that was implemented in December of 2009, if a water system possesses one positive Total Coliform test, the city must collect bacteria samples from all active sources including groundwater sources.

However, according to the 2012 Water Quality Report, the city did not collect a bacteria sample from its active groundwater sources, which violates the sampling requirements.

Each month, the city completes more than 70 bacteria tests at more than 30 sites around the city. Annually, the city tests a list of other possible contaminants in each of the water sources to ensure that no pollutants are present, according to the city of Keene’s website. Hanscom said that the city of Keene has two different water sources. “Most of our water comes from surface water—it’s a big reservoir up in Roxbury, [N.H.]” she said. However, in order to ensure that this water is safe for the public to drink, Hanscom said that they not only process the water through the city of Keene’s Water Treatment Plant, but the city is also required to follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations. “They regulate what you have to do to it before you can sell to people and they regulate what you have to remove from it and how clean it has to be,” Hanscom explained.  Hanscom said that the first step in regulating the water is removing tannins.

“Sometimes when you look at a lake or reservoir it has a little bit of color to it—almost like tea water—those are called tannins and they can give water taste and odor and they are a carbon-based material,” she said. According to, tannins are not a health problem, but rather an aesthetic problem. This natural organic material is a byproduct of nature’s fermentation process that causes the water to have a tangy or tart aftertaste.

Hanscom said that in addition to removing tannins from the water supply, the city adds chlorine to the water. “Part of what we are required to do is add chlorine because there are also bacteria in surface water. It’s naturally occurring bacteria. Some of it can make you sick; some of it is bearable and won’t make you sick,” Hanscom stated.

Hanscom explained that chlorine is an unstable compound and can chemically react with material that grows on the insides of the pipes that carry our water supply. As a result, more chlorine is added to the water plant to ensure that there is still chlorine in our water by the time it reaches the edges of the system. “That’s why some places are going to smell it more than others, because it spends more time in the system,” Hanscom said.

Gordon said, “What usually happens is some of the chlorine reacts with small dips of plant matter and it forms chemicals called Trihalomethanes [THMS] and if they are high enough then they can have health effects but there is a drinking water standard for THM of 80 parts per billion and if it goes above that then they would have to notify the public.”

Crowder said that the chlorine levels present in Keene’s water supply are low. At the college, the chlorine levels would be considered a one, and these levels can be as high as a four and still be safe for drinking, according to Crowder.

However, the city of Keene not only received violations for Total Coliform, they also violated a drinking water standard in 2011. The water supply is routinely monitored for turbidity, which is the cloudiness of the water. In 2011, there were 4.22 Nephelometric Turbidity Units [NTU] detected the water. NTU is a measurement of clarity and an excess of 5 NTU is noticeable to the average person, according to the 2012 Water Quality Report.

But the 2012 report attributes the amount of turbidity to soil runoff. The report states that treated water from the Water Treatment Plant filter was released into the clearwell tank at a rapid rate, which created a momentary breakthrough of particles, which sent the water to the online turbidity analyzer that recorded the exceeding amount of turbidity. But turbidity is considered to be an aesthetic rather than a health concern.

Junior Kelly Marchione said that she believes the water smells and tastes like chlorine on campus. Marchione stated that the quality of the water off campus was better in comparison to on campus. However, students living on campus will now have access to more sources from which they can get their water.

According to Jim Carley, associate director of residential life and housing, new water fountains are now available in the residential buildings—thus far, Holloway and Butler Court all have the new water fountains—Pondside III, Carle Hall and Huntress are all in progress of receiving this new feature.

Carley said that these new water fountains were installed as a way for the campus to be more sustainable, and were not installed due to complaints of the water quality. But these new water fountains possess more filters, which will improve the quality of the water that is provided to students, Carley said.

Despite the violations in previous years’ Water Quality reports, Hanscom assures that the water in Keene is safe to drink. Crowder said that the Water Treatment Plant is aware of the problem and that they are taking the proper steps to solve it. Hanscom said, “The water is still safe to drink; we test it all the time for bacteria to assure that it is still safe for drinking.”


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To see Multimedia Director Kateland Ditting’s piece about the new fountains on campus visit www. 




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