News

State could lose authority to monitor drinking water

Written by Lillian Reed/Hanover Evening Sun | Feb 20, 2017 10:47 AM
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FILE PHOTO: Workers from a local water service fill the water buffaloes from their tanker at a city fire station in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh where the city made water available for the public on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

(Undated) -- People use tap water multiple times every day but might not stop to think about the substances that could potentially be in that water.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for regulating the approximately 100 items that must be monitored for in water systems, but that could change if the federal government revokes its authority.

Lead and chromium-6 are just two substances on the list of about 100 metals, minerals, chemicals and other items that are monitored in public drinking water, The Evening Sun has previously reported.

A few other examples include mercury, asbestos, forms of nitrogen and even pH balance.

State records from the past three years reveal that York and Adams county residents might have been exposed to levels of chromium-6 and lead in their drinking water that fall under the EPA limit, but in some cases, over scientists' recommended intake.

Exposure to too much lead can cause serious health problems including kidney damage, increased risks for cancer and stunted development. Exposure to certain amounts of Chromium-6 has been associated with lung and stomach cancer.

The federal Safe Drinking Water Act gives the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the responsibility for protecting the United States' drinking water supplies. The EPA is the front line of protection for making sure people have safe water to drink.

But the federal rule also allows a state to take on that responsibility -- called primacy -- if that state meets the condition that its regulations are no less stringent than those of the federal government.

And Pennsylvania might be in danger of losing its primacy status.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent a warning letter to Pennsylvania on Dec. 20. In the letter, EPA Water Protection Division Director Jon Capacasa wrote that the DEP's inadequate staffing caused the number of unaddressed Safe Drinking Water Act violations to nearly double from 4,298 to 7,922 over five years, the Associated Press reported.

The EPA also found that Pennsylvania's sanitarian inspectors had more than double the workload than the national average.

In 2016, the DEP's southcentral office, which regulates water systems in York and Adams counties, staffed 12 full-time water testers responsible for monitoring and regulating public drinking water systems -- down from 18 full-time water testers in previous years, one official reported.

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf's DEP says the agency is discussing ways to address the EPA's concerns, the Associated Press reported.

StateImpact Pennsylvania reports that if Pennsylvania loses primacy, the state could stand to lose millions in federal funds supporting water improvements. Water systems would also be subject to double-permitting, as the EPA takes over enforcement of federal law and Pennsylvania continues to enforce its own state Safe Drinking Water Act, according to StateImpact.

The loss of primacy would not affect the three-year testing period for water in Pennsylvania, which is mandated by federal law.

Pennsylvania residents can find test results for their water providers in two places: a water quality report and the DEP's drinking water reporting system.

Each water utility must publish a water quality report that informs customers of any recent test results. Some utilities may post the water quality report online or send it directly to customers in the mail along with a monthly bill.

The DEP also maintains an online database, called a drinking water reporting system, where it keeps records for all water test results in the state dating back to 1999.

Protect your drinking water

Consumers have several options for monitoring and removing various substances, such as lead, chromium-6 and other toxins, from their drinking water.

Some home water filtration systems are capable of removing all or some amounts of toxins from water. The National Sanitation Foundation verifies the effectiveness of filtration systems through the issuing of a seal on products. 

The Department of Environmental Protection also has an accreditation program for Pennsylvania labs that conduct water testing. One such accredited facility, Laboratory, Analytical & Biological Services, Inc., is based in East Berlin Borough in Adams County.

A full list of acccredited labs can be found on the DEP website. 

 


This article is part of a partnership between WITF and the Hanover Evening Sun.

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