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County and Board of Health Deliver Protocol for Drinking Water Issues to Wilmington VA Clinic Owner

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs Clinic in Wilmington, NC opened in May of 2013; water contamination concerns were reported in March of 2015.

The Department of Veterans Affairs building in Wilmington – hailed as a boon for local veterans who don’t have to drive to Fayetteville for health care – has been bogged down by concerns over drinking water contamination for months.   In response to those concerns, New Hanover County and the Board of Health  delivered on Monday what officials are calling a "protocol" to building owner Summit Smith Healthcare, who leases the facility to the Federal Government. 

It was March of this year that concerns arose over discolored water coming out of faucets at the Veterans Affairs facility in Wilmington.  Testing by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority confirmed the problem was an internal issue with the building’s plumbing – which showed elevated levels of copper and lead. 

Four months later, the New Hanover County Health Department stepped in and banned the use of approximately 25% of the building. 

New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple says, in order to get the facility back in service to local veterans, the County and the Board of Health have now clearly laid out what the building owner must do. 

"…Over the next three weeks, if [there is] 100% compliance with EPA standards through testing of the water, we will lift the Health Department’s order that currently exists banning the use of the drinking water in that facility and allow the clinic to return to business as usual."

Zapple says CFPUA officials will collect water samples once a week for three consecutive weeks.  If the test results from the state toxicologist's office meet EPA drinking water standards, the Board of Health will lift the ban on parts of the facility.

While recent testing showed levels of copper that exceed EPA standards for drinking water, Zapple says this protocol is a major step forward.  The frustrating part, says Zapple, is that the location of the contaminated water moves around the building, from testing to testing. 

A phone call to the attorney for Summit Smith Health Care was not returned by deadline. 

 A Town Hall is planned for this Friday, October 16th at the Wilmington Clinic.  It’s a chance for the public to ask questions and voice concerns about care at VA facilities. Staff will also be on hand to assist with filing and status of claims and other benefits services.

Town Hall, Oct. 16, 4-6 p.m.
VBA Claims Team On Site, 2-6 p.m.

Wilmington VA Health Care Center, 1705 Gardner Road (on the grounds of the New Hanover IAP), Wilmington NC 28401

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.