Steelton water crisis could lead to changes across Pa.
Following the issues earlier this year with oversight and treatment of the water in Steelton, Dauphin County, one state lawmaker is calling for changes.
In April, the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection fined Steelton $55,200 for what it called “significant violations.”
According to a news release, the violations included:
• Steelton failed to provide adequate disinfection of Giardia lamblia, an organism commonly found in surface water that is capable of causing disease, for at least 24 days in 2013. Steelton also did not report this treatment failure to DEP;
• Steelton failed to record filtered water turbidity levels, a measurement of the cloudiness of the water which is an indicator of water quality, for 108 separate days in 2013;
• Steelton’s former operator falsely reported to DEP during the months of August, September and October 2013 that filtered water turbidity had been recorded and the readings were all acceptable; and
• Steelton operated several modifications to the facilities without a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) permit.
There were calls for members of the borough’s water authority to resign because of the issues. None did.
Sen. Rob Teplitz (D) began researching the issue and became concerned by the requirements for serving on an authority. Currently, the state requires authority members live within the jurisdiction they service. Beyond that, Steelton Mayor Tom Acri says the borough conducts background checks and reviews applicants' resumes.
Teplitz says authority members should be required to know something about water treatment.
“If there was that level of expertise, maybe there would be more of a motivation, more of a sense that information should have gotten out there sooner," said Teplitz, speaking of the delay between the time the state informed Steelton leaders there was an issue and the time the public learned of the situation.
Teplitz has proposed a bill requiring members "to have some technical proficiency in surface or ground water matters." To read the proposal, click here.
“That’s a very narrow area, and we really should have people in there that know exactly what they’re doing,” said Teplitz.
Mayor Acri pointed out the borough has taken several steps to improve oversight already. He notes the water treatment plant has a new head operator. In addition the state is doing more frequent inspections that in the past. He also said the water authority is meeting more frequently. Acri also serves as the authority's vice president.
“The bottom line is we had to solve our problem, and we did. We’re working with DEP now," said Acri. “Are you going to get volunteers to sit on the board of the water works or any other kind of board in these communities and have…everything that Senator Teplitz is asking in here, it’s not going to happen.”
Steelton has about 5,800 residents.
Acri says when there are open positions on the boroughs authorities, boards and commissions, it can be a struggle to get qualified applicants as it is.
“(Sen. Teplitz) wrote a job description, and I don’t believe it’s going to be appropriate for that to happen,” says Acri. “Does the board of directors, the CEO, the board of directors of an ice cream factory know how ice cream is made? I don’t think so.”
Teplitz has filed a co-sponsorship memo (click here to read), seeking other lawmakers to join him in supporting his legislation.