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Malfunction at water plant serving Kittanning and Applewold traced to caustic soda

| Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 6:08 p.m.

An equipment malfunction at its water treatment plant caused too much caustic soda to enter the water, initiating a ban on water use on Friday afternoon in Kittanning and Applewold and parts of Manor and Rayburn, Pennsylvania American Water officials said Saturday.

Company spokesman Gary Lobaugh did not specify which equipment malfunctioned.

“It's an automated plant, and someone remotely monitoring was able to spot the pH and act accordingly,” Lobaugh said.

A boil water advisory for drinking water remained in effect. Pennsylvania American lifted its ban on Friday evening for the 2,100 residents affected by the alert.

The state Department of Environmental Protection expects to receive a report from the company detailing what went wrong at the plant.

DEP spokesman John Poister said no decision has been made about possible fines.

“We're are not at that point yet. They will give us a report, and we will deal with it. Our biggest concern now is that they get the problem solved,” Poister said.

The company reported that water containing the caustic soda was diverted into a holding tank at the treatment plant and was not distributed through the lines. Because of the shutdown, a loss of water pressure could cause contamination to enter the water distribution system.

Lobaugh said plant operators are taking two samples of the water for analysis to make sure it's clear of bacteria and parasites, according to procedures.

The first sample came back clean, he said. A second sample will be taken on Sunday.

“We'll know after (Sunday) if we need to collect more,” Lobaugh said. “If the second sample is clean, we will issue a boil lift advisory.”

The water emergency caused cancellation of Kittanning's holiday parade.

It will not be rescheduled, according to Dr. Ray Voller, president of Downtown Kittanning Inc., the sponsor.

“There's too much conflict with other things to have it,” said Voller. “Volunteers are busy; all the future dates are reserved. Re-booking the attractions can't be done. It's impossible to get it to work.”

Staff writer Rick Wills contributedto this report. Mitch Fryer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.He can be reached at 724-543-1303 or mfryer@tribweb.com.

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