While we do like to hear that the legal system has taken an interest in prosecuting those who threaten the safety and potability of water supplies, public or private, through acts of negligence or on purpose, it still bothers us that people would actually do things on purpose that could put the water supply of others at risk.
Today we stumbled across an article from a Chicago area paper talking about how a Federal Judge must decide whether or not a water company and also two of its employees should face charges for allegedly raising free chlorine levels intentionally right before taking readings and then allowing them to drop to potentially unsafe levels at other times throughout the day.
In the spirit of allowing both sides to present their case, we will post the entire article… which left us with more than one nagging question.
A federal judge has delayed ruling on whether to dismiss criminal charges claiming United Water Services tampered with water testing at the Gary Sanitary District.
Attorneys for United Water argued during a hearing Tuesday morning at the U.S. District Court in Hammond that the government’s indictment doesn’t actually cite any illegal activity.
The company, as well as two of its former employees, Gregory Ciaccio and Dwain Bowie, are charged with raising chlorine levels just before daily samples were taken for tests then lowering it again after the samples were taken to amounts not strong enough to properly kill off E. coli bacteria.
United Water operated the GSD from 1998 until last year.
However, Steven Solow, attorney for United Water, argued during the hearing on a motion to dismiss that the GSD’s wastewater permit allowed for the company to raise and lower chlorine levels. “Those are not improper things to do,” Solow argued.
He added that United Water would increase the chlorine levels in the morning, which is when the samples were taken, because people use more water in the morning and that every waste water treatment plant in the world changes its chlorine levels throughout the day.
However, David Mucha, an attorney with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, argued that United Water’s actions did violate its permit. The daily samples are supposed to represent what the water is like at the plant during that day, not just at that instant in time, Mucha said.
“This case is very simple,” Mucha said. “They altered normal operations at the time of sampling.”
If the sample doesn’t represent all the water at the plant on the day of the sample, then it’s useless, he said.
He also dismissed Solow’s argument that raising and lowering the chlorine levels weren’t illegal. Mucha said that done on their own, each was fine but that they became illegal when coupled with being done right before and after tests were taken. He likened it to how people can legally drink and can legally drive but can’t legally drive drunk.
Further, Mucha said, the government has to prove only that a person knowingly tampered with water samples for a conviction. U.S. law does not require any other provision.
U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano recessed the hearing to look at the permit and filings. Mary Hatton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys office, said that a ruling likely wouldn’t come until after Aug. 1 because of deadlines for a filing by the defense. ( source )
Our first question…
… deals with the frequency of testing: “Why did the plant only need to test in the mornings?”
Our second questions deals with the real results of the raising chlorine levels (supposedly) to pass inspection and then lowering them to potentially unsafe levels: “Did anyone get sick or suffer any form of harm as a result of these actions?”
Don’t get us wrong based upon that second question. We just want to know more about how these folks got caught. If someone got sick as a result of what the water company did, then this case would have ended in a guilty verdict without the need for the judge to deliberate longer… right?
Bitter truth about public water systems?
While few people would argue that the United States of America, when examined as a whole, has one of the most technologically advanced network of public water distribution systems in the world. This does not, however, mean that all of the systems do all of the testing they should at all the right times.
The article above, as well as articles we’ve read over the years about public officials and private firms fabricating water test results in an effort to save money, makes us leery of our great system… yet grateful as heck that for the most part our greatest fears about our public water supply deal mostly with ‘minor’ breaches in protocol rather than instances of blatant disregard for the maintaining of sanitary practices in our water treatment facilities.
Testing for chlorine in drinking water at home?
Do average people have the ability to keep tabs on the amount of chlorine in their drinking water? Absolutely! Companies like WaterSafe and SenSafe make reliable, accurate and completely affordable test kits for detecting levels of both free and total chlorine in tap/drinking water.