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Beaver water woes tied to Ohio drilling

| Friday, March 1, 2013, 11:47 p.m.

A Beaver County drinking water supplier says liquid drilling wastes dumped illegally in Ohio are linked to water problems in his county, where local and state officials claim Ohio investigators failed to tell them about pollution headed their way.

The Beaver Falls Municipal Authority has had sporadic problems since autumn with organic contaminants and foul taste and odors in the water it pulls from the Beaver River, General Manager James A. Riggio said on Friday.

Riggio pointed to Hardrock Excavating LLC, which federal prosecutors blamed on Thursday for dumping brine and oil-based drilling mud upstream in Ohio from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31.

“It just seems too much of a coincidence right when there was this other issue going on,” Riggio said. “There's no way I or you can prove that. But we haven't done anything differently at our plant.”

The plant, with 17,000 customers in municipalities from Big Beaver south to Conway, plus Zelienople in Butler County, had problems long before Hardrock allegedly started dumping, said John Poister, regional spokesman with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. But it's hard to rule out a connection with recent problems, in part because Ohio officials never gave notification or details about the dumping to the DEP, its officials said.

“I don't know” why they did not, said Gary Clark, spokesman for the DEP's Northwest Region. “I've never worked with Ohio EPA before. I would think (they would notify). That would be my thought. ... We have yet to get a call from them.”

Ohio investigators witnessed illegal dumping on Jan. 31, according to several news reports. Company workers used fresh water to flush oil field waste liquid into a storm drain, sending at least 20,000 gallons of contaminated water into the Mahoning River watershed, according to state and federal officials.

The Mahoning reaches Pennsylvania in Lawrence County, where it flows into the Beaver River. That water flows into the Ohio River.

Drinking water intakes in Mahoning, Lawrence County, and Midland may have been downstream, but DEP officials are unsure. Authorities there could not be reached.

Officials at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources could not be reached. Chris Abbruzzese, a spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said, “I'm sure” the agency notified Pennsylvania officials, but he did not call back as promised to confirm details.

There are no immediate health risks for anyone drinking water from the Beaver Falls authority, Riggio said.

The organic contaminants were only precursors to cancer-causing agents, and follow-up testing detected none of those agents, he said.

In the days after the alleged Jan. 31 dumping, the Beaver Falls intake had a 12-hour period of taste and odor problems, Riggio said. Workers used about 500 pounds of carbon — five times the typical amount — to filter the water.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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