ShareThis Page

Wilkinsburg-Penn Joint Water Authority faces 'significant fine'

| Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, 4:44 p.m.

The state Department of Environmental Protection likely will impose a “significant fine” on the Wilkinsburg-Penn Joint Water Authority because it failed to issue a boil-water notice during a 19-day period in November when its water did not meet disinfection standards, a DEP spokesman said.

The authority's failure to notify the DEP, Allegheny County Health Department or its 40,000 customers of the necessity for boiling water between Nov. 7 and 25 as a precaution to kill any disease-causing organisms was a “major oversight,” DEP spokesman John Poister said.

“There will likely be a significant fine. We consider this a serious breach,” Poister said. “You have a trust with your customers that when they turn on their water, they're not going to get sick. And when you break that trust, it's serious.”

Though an authority official said the public never was in danger, water samples taken in November showed chlorine concentrations were between 0.15 and 0.19 milligrams per liter, which fell shy of the 0.2 reading required by the state.

All 160 samples tested negative for bacteria, viruses or parasites, said Mark Lerch, director of supply for the water authority.

“We haven't heard of anyone suffering from the symptoms,” he said. “There was still chlorine in the system; we just didn't meet that minimum treatment technique.”

Allegheny County health officials discovered the lower chlorine levels while doing routine testing of November water samples on Dec. 24. A spokesman for the health department was not immediately available for an interview.

Authority officials responded to the county discovery by raising the chlorine level in the water and setting alarm monitors so water plant operators will be alerted immediately if the disinfectant level falls again, Lerch said.

“The way it's supposed to work is that when the chlorine residual drops below the required level for longer than four hours, if we catch it, we're supposed to notify the county within an hour and the public within 24 hours,” Lerch said.

He attributed the issue to human error.

“We have equipment monitoring throughout the system, and we'd inadvertently set it to a range lower than 0.2 milligrams per liter,” Lerch said.

The authority used its “rapid-response system” this week to call about 95 percent of its customers with a recorded message about the November treatment breakdown, Lerch said. It also posted notices in local libraries and borough buildings, Lerch said.

If DEP officials follow through with the fine, Wilkinsburg-Penn will become the second authority in the region to be penalized because of a public-notification issue.

Last month, the DEP fined the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County $5,000 because it did not initially publicize all of the health risks involved with the potential discharge of bacteria into its water supply.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.