USA--Nationwide Study Finds Water Systems Do Poor Job of Reporting Problems : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Water systems do poor job of reporting problems, nationwide study finds

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Public drinking water systems are better at providing water than giving consumers information about it, according to a national study by an alliance of environmental, health and consumer groups.

The study, released yesterday in Pittsburgh and various sites around the nation, characterized the performance of 89 Pennsylvania water utilities as "mediocre" in meeting new federal rules requiring them to inform consumers of contaminants in their drinking water and the potential health effects.

While the study noted that only two water systems in the southwestern part of the state violated federal standards -- Coraopolis for coliform bacteria and e-coli, and Zelienople for nitrates -- it found significant reporting deficiencies in half of the suppliers' first public right-to-know reports filed in October.

"The report was not about water quality or contaminants. It graded the suppliers on how well they carried out the right-to-know requirements, and there's lots of room for improvement," said Myron Arnowitt, Clean Water Action's regional director.

The most common reason that reports received low grades was a failure to prominently display a required warning about contaminant risks to vulnerable populations -- infants, elderly, those who are HIV positive or have AIDS, and patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Reports also were downgraded for using misleading language about maximum contaminant levels and risks, and for making blanket assertions that the water supply is safe for all consumers.

Nationally, the study by the Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water cited more than 40 percent of the 430 drinking water suppliers surveyed for failing to provide required information to consumers. Fifteen percent didn't even file the required report with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Pittsburgh's water supplier received a "D" for its report. The Pennsylvania American Water Co. supplying parts of Pittsburgh and the suburban South Hills got a "B," as did the West View Water Authority.

Altoona received the lone "A" in Western Pennsylvania.

Local failing grades were given the Beaver Falls Municipal Authority, the Cheswick Water Authority, Grove City and Latrobe Municipal Authority

John Hanna, executive director of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, said the supplier followed an EPA form in compiling its report and met with Clean Water Action prior to its publication to review suggested changes.

"Some of their suggestions we accepted, some we didn't. I thought we did a good job, but I guess if you don't agree with everything they want, you get a D," Hanna said. "We complied with every aspect of the EPA reporting requirements and the agency accepted our report."

The reports, the first required under a provision of the 1996 Clean Water Act, are based on data from 1998. Reports on 1999 contaminant levels are due to be disseminated to the public in July.

The study recommended that future water supplier reports display warnings to at-risk populations more prominently, be more widely distributed to all water consumers, provide full disclosure about contaminants and their risks, and use large, easily readable typefaces instead of very small type. It also recommended that suppliers should invite public input on the reports prior to publication.

"Just making those small, inexpensive changes will upgrade the reports quite a bit," said Suzanne Forrester, of Clean Water Action. "We hope the utilities will use our recommendations to do a better job of reporting to the public this summer."

-- (, March 15, 2000

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