Every Tuesday and Friday evening, the square in front of Le Castellet’s town hall is transformed into a drive-through. Residents park their cars, open their trunks and load them with packs of water bottles. Fliers posted on stone fountains in this small town in southeastern France, surrounded by mountains and lavender fields, call attention to the situation: the tap water is no longer drinkable.
“We’re fed up,” said Sauveur Civiletti, 75, tucking three packs into his car, summing up the feelings of the town’s 300 inhabitants, more resigned than defiant. Fed up with cooking pasta with bottled water, fed up with preparing coffee with bottled water, fed up with washing salad with bottled water, fed up with rinsing the baby’s bottle with bottled water…
This has been giong on for more than three months. It was on June 8 that a pesticide byproduct – “metabolite” – by the name of N,N-dimethylsulfamide, was detected in the drinking water source at concentration levels of 0.7 microgram per liter, seven times higher than the upper limit established by the public health code.
“It was a real blow,” said the mayor, Benoît Gouin. The neighboring town of Puimichel was able to connect to an old system, with a tanker truck circulating on a supplementary basis. Not so in Le Castellet, however. So the town hall has been turned into a water dispenser. Three pallets of 500 bottles fill the room. Everyone comes in to get their ration: three big bottles of water per person, per day. The mayor takes charge like a grocer at the register:
“Still four of you?” “Well, yes.” “So, two six-packs.” “Well, yes.”
The mayor also lends a hand in hauling bottles to the waiting vehicles. Meanwhile, municipal employees arrange for deliveries to be made to the houses of residents not able to collect their own. Local authories are responsible for water management and have financed the purchase of the bottles: more than 50,000 have already been emptied at a cost of €25,000.
Mr. Gouin’s constituents fear that their future water bills could skyrocket. The urban area is at work on a project to connect to another drinking water system. Nonetheless, “Six kilometers of water system in the countryside is not something that can be accomplished overnight and it comes at a price, estimated at €800,000,” warned Serge Faudrin, vice-president of the agglomeration in charge of water.
“This situation can’t go on forever,” said Valérie Bernard-Brunel, a Spanish teacher with a pack of water on her doorstep and a bottle by the sink for brushing her teeth. The regional health agency (ARS) conducts a weekly water quality analysis, and the results are posted on the glass door of the town hall. “One day we are told that the level of pesticides has dropped a little, and the next day it has risen a bit,” said Ms. Bernard-Brunel. However, the ARS states: “The situation remains the same: the levels remain high and there is no downward trend.”
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