DEC says city’s violations are not serious

by Angela Denning-Barnes on August 13, 2013

The City of Bethel received violations for not monitoring some of its water that was hauled in trucks to residences or piped into Housing Subdivision. The city has disputed some of the violations and the Department of Environmental Conservation, who handed them out, says they’re pretty routine.

The violations were announced in this year’s Annual Water Quality Report which is a federal requirement by the Safe Drinking Water Act. The report was sent out to residents’ mail boxes recently even though the violations were given to the city in February by the Alaska Department of Conservation.

Two violations were for not testing for two different contaminants at the Bethel Heights Plant in 2012: disinfection by-products and nitrate. Prolonged consumption of both can cause serious health risks. Too much nitrate for babies can even cause death.

Still, the DEC says the violations aren’t that serious and that they hand them out often. Heather Newman is an Environmental Program Manager.

“They are very common,” Newman says. “Especially in this particular situation when they’ve already returned to compliance. When it becomes a bigger deal is when you have an on going issue where you’re not getting any samples at all and we have no data.”

That’s not the case for Bethel, says Leah Van Sandt, Environmental Program Specialist with the DEC.

“The city responded rather promptly and they actually achieved, which means they returned to compliance by monitoring for those contaminants,” Van Sandt says.

The report shows that all contaminants that were tested at the plant in 2012 came in below risk level.

In the report, the city also received two violations for not testing two water trucks in two months last year. The city and DEC says there had been a mix up and one of the violations was inaccurate.

The city is required to sample the water every month in every truck for the bacteria total coliform. The report shows that the city missed doing that twice in 2012, once for a truck in July and once for another truck in January.

Van Sandt says the city had mixed up the 2012 and 2013 samples, so, they actually did test the truck in January of 2012 but missed this year. Since they already corrected this year’s problem there won’t be a violation for it later on.

The city says the other truck was out of service for the month of July which is why it wasn’t tested. The state hadn’t received that information yet, but says they were just concerned that it got back on track the following month.
The report shows that all other samples that were taken all year tested negative for coliform.

The violations don’t carry any fines with them. Van Sandt says that would happen only if it was a repeated issue for an extended period of time. She says these are more like notices.

“It’s just a notice that they failed to monitor,” she says. “We just let them know that they have violated the routine monitoring.”

In a written statement from Acting City Manager, Larry Elarton, the city has been testing for the contaminants this year.

“We would like to assure the public that the items discussed regarding the Bethel Heights Treatment Plant have been addressed and we are in compliance with all DEC regulations and testing requirements.”

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