Thursday, November 15, 2007

If you visit Scottsdale, don't drink the water.

Edit on 1/17/2008 to add: For those readers looking for info on the January 2008 incident affecting drinking water in parts of Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, my post on that is here. That post includes links to news reports, the City of Scottsdale's press release on the subject (with a link to a map of the affected area, and a link to Arizona American Water's press release.

End edit...

Be warned, the following is a totally Scottsdale-centric post...

The post was almost titled "Want a sure way to tick people off? Mess with their drinking water..."

You know, tonight there were four events/meetings that I could have attended - three were a D17 Dems movie, a D8 Dems healthcare and legislation program, and a meeting of the Community Council of South Scottsdale. I chose the fourth, and am very glad that I did so.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about a then-upcoming EPA community involvement meeting concerning, among other things, a request by Motorola to remove carbon filters from a Superfund cleanup site in south Scottsdale.

That meeting was tonight.

First, the good news - in a decision that was just made this week, the EPA has decided not to allow Motorola to remove the carbon filters.

Now, the bad news - halfway through the meeting, it was announced that on October 15th and for a period of approximately 8 days total, there was an incident of "incomplete mediation" at the Miller Road Treatment Facility (located at approximately Miller Road and McDonald in Scottsdale).

"Incomplete mediation" is a euphemism for "the TCE in the water wasn't cleaned to federal clean water standards of 5 parts per billion (ppb)."

That announcement turned what had been an informative but peaceful meeting until that point into one filled with angry outbursts and recriminations. One common theme in the comments from the public was the lack of communication with the public about the problem. Most of the folks there were under the understanding that the general public would be notified of such issues within 24 - 72 hours.

The basic story, as explained in the meeting was this -

Last month, the operators of the treatment facility were inspecting the primary treatment tower at the facility in preparation for some preventative maintenance work next year, so the water flow was switched to another tower at the facility. The facility takes a sample each week and sends it out to a lab to be tested; on Monday, October 15, that weekly sample was taken from the output of the alternate tower.

A week later, the water flow was switched back to the main tower, before the sample results were returned.

Under normal conditions, that sample is tested on Monday of a given week with the results getting returned to the operator by Friday. Any abnormal/unacceptable results are then forwarded to the EPA and the public is notified.

However, that week, the lab that normally does the testing had an equipment problem and had to forward the sample to another lab. Those lab results were returned last Wednesday, the results were verified and with the holiday weekend and an EPA conference in the way, the pertinent EPA people weren't notified until yesterday.

The public received its notice at the meeting.

At one point, the local general manager for the operator, Arizona American Water, rose to state that while the water left the TCE treatment facility with higher than acceptable levels (9 ppb actual versus 5 ppb acceptable), the water was combined with other, already clean, water at an arsenic treatement facility and was hence diluted to acceptable levels before it entered the drinking water supply.

Needless to say, but no one at the meeting bought any of it - neither the excuses for the delay in public notification, nor the assurances that the water was safe anyway.

For the next 20 - 30 minutes, the presenters were faced with sharp questions and sharper comments (and at least one F-bomb) from the audience; most of the loudest complaints were with the lack of communication with the public, in regards to both this current incident and historically.

Finally, though, the organizers of the meeting, including Vicki Rosen of the EPA, were able to move the discussion onward to the rest of the agenda.

People were still a little ticked though. :))

When asked afterward, Dennis Shirley of Errol Montgomery and Associates, cleanup consultants to the parties responsible for the TCE contamination in the area - Motorola, Siemens, and GlaxoSmithKline) stated that he didn't know what the problem was with the alternate treatment tower and that the investigation was ongoing.

When he was asked how long before the results of that investigation would be known, he declined to be specific; when pressed, he said "probably before the end of the year."

These community involvement meeting are normally on an annual schedule, but many attendees, including me, asked/advised Ms. Rosen that perhaps one should be held sooner, perhaps when the facts about the "incomplete remediation" incident are gathered. She agreed, though one won't be held before the end of the year.

I'll update when the investigation results are available and/or a new meeting date is set.

The uproar over treatment facility failure overshadowed what was a very informative meeting. Besides the EPA, a number of government agencies were represented at the meeting, including the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), City of Scottsdale, and Maricopa County Air Quality Department (MCAQD).

BTW - for those of you familiar with Scottsdale, the North Indian Bend Wash Superfund site is roughly the area bordered by Pima Road on the east, Scottsdale Road on the west, Chaparral Road on the north and the Salt River on the south.

BTW2 - I live in the NIBW site. :(

I won't try to recap all of the information presented tonight (I couldn't even if I wanted to - I don't take notes fast enough to cover all of that material), but here are some informative links -

EPA's North Indian Bend Wash Superfund (NIBW) site info page

City of Scottsdale's NIBW page

A 2005 EPA-produced fact sheet here

A 1992 Phoenix New Times story on the whole issue here

A National Academies of Science report on the human health risks of TCE here (there are a *lot* of reports on this; just type "TCE" into any search engine)

Other notes from the meeting:

...Congressman Harry Mitchell's office was represented (not presenting, just observing) by Reed Adamson; don't be surprised if the Congressman weighs in on some of the issues aired tonight, such as the lack of public communication.

...Ari Cohn and a photographer from the East Valley Tribune (apologies to her for not getting her name) were also at the meeting; expect a more complete meeting recap, with pics, from the Trib on Friday or Saturday (depending on deadlines).

...Perhaps preparing for ongoing/impending litigation, Motorola had a camerman recording the meeting; perhaps not-so-coincidentally, Motorola's rep at the meeting, Terry Lockwood, was mostly silent.

Have a good weekend!

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