By Karen Brooks
(Reuters) - A water provider in northern Alabama warned more than 100,000 customers on Thursday not to drink or cook with tap water, saying it could be contaminated with potentially dangerous levels of a chemical that federal health officials have linked to cancer, according to local media reports.
The warning issued by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority, 40 miles south of Alabama's border with Tennessee, comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an advisory on May 19 that lowered the safe level for compounds known as PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.
The manmade compounds can be found in nonstick cookware, waterproof clothes, carpet sealants and firefighting foams, according to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which is monitoring the situation.
Direct exposure to unsafe levels of the chemicals could result in developmental deficiencies including skeletal variations and low birth weights in fetuses or breastfed infants, according to the EPA advisory.
It could also cause cancer, liver and thyroid damage and problems with the immune system, the advisory said.
In a news conference, the water authority's general manager, Don Sims, said the board on Thursday accepted his recommendation to warn residents not to use the water, according to a report by the Decatur Daily.
The water authority could not be reached for comment.
Sims did not say how much of the chemicals were found in the water, only that the level could be potentially dangerous, according to local media reports.
The water authority filed a lawsuit last October against 3M Co and other companies, saying the companies contaminated the Tennessee River with toxic chemicals including PFOS that can be found in the drinking water of its customers, according to report in AL.com.
3M has said the accusations are baseless and that its use of the chemicals is legal and safe, the report said.
Sims said the advisory would remain in effect until a temporary filter to remove the chemicals goes online in September, the AL.com report said. A permanent system is expected to be completed in 2019, the report said.
The water system has 10,000 direct residential customers, providing drinking water to an estimated 100,000 people, according to AL.com.
In Flint, Michigan, two state officials face charges and lawsuits have been filed after dangerously high levels of lead were found in the city's drinking water.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)