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DEP study 'overlooked' lead violation in Prenter water

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State environmental regulators on Wednesday issued a clarification to their report on water quality in the Boone County community of Prenter, after a citizen pointed out they had overlooked a violation of pollution limits for lead.

The state Department of Environmental Protection had declared that a yearlong study had found no violations of health standards in water samples taken from 33 residential wells in the area.

It turns out the study, performed by DEP by the industry consulting firm Triad Engineering, actually found a violation of federal drinking water limits for lead in one of the wells examined.

The error in DEP's press announcement and the text of the report was pointed out in the comments section of the Gazette's Coal Tattoo blog by a reader who examined data tables attached to the agency report.

In a press release, DEP said that agency and Triad staff had carefully reviewed the data, but that the lead finding "was accidentally overlooked by both."

"While this does not change the overall scope of the study, exceeding the drinking water standard for lead is serious and we are glad this error was found," said DEP Secretary Randy Huffman.

The owner of the well with the elevated lead value lives in an area served by public water. The DEP is trying to reach the owner to make him aware of the finding and will investigate the cause of the elevated lead levels.

None of the other 32 wells sampled in the study area exceeded the primary drinking water standards for metals.

The DEP report and the agency's press statements contradicted findings by experts hired by lawyers representing area residents, who are suing coal companies they say contaminated their water by injecting coal slurry waste underground.

Triad officials collected water samples from 33 of the more than 100 homes they visited as part of the project launched by the DEP after the agency did not include the Prenter area in a broader study of whether underground injection of coal slurry has damaged drinking water in the coalfields.

The DEP said two domestic wells -- neither currently used for drinking water -- located adjacent to a reclaimed surface mine operation "showed the greatest signs of mine-related impact." Those wells had elevated sulfate, iron, manganese and aluminum, but those levels did not exceed government standards.

A third of the wells tested did exceed what are called secondary drinking water standards for iron and manganese. Violations of secondary standards are those that affect the taste, odor or color of drinking water and can stain skin or teeth, but are not considered a public health risk.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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