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Groups push for more Pennsylvania water testing data

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 12:44 a.m.

More than 20 environmental groups are calling on the state to release more data from its water contamination tests, according to a letter the groups released Wednesday.

In light of recent lawsuit depositions that raised questions about the state's testing policy, 26 groups criticized the Department of Environmental Protection in the letter. Limiting the information the agency sends to landowners shows a disregard for potential impacts from gas drilling and a lack of public transparency in its work, the groups said.

“What is unreported in these tests is not relevant to our investigation and thus not quality controlled for accuracy. Data that is not quality controlled is not considered valid and, as a matter of practice, is not reported,” agency spokeswoman Kevin Sunday said in response to the letter. “DEP's testing is similar to other states and provides for sound and fact-based determinations, which we stand behind.”

State officials have no plans to change the policy, Sunday said.

The conflict started over how the agency handled test results for the Washington County families who are suing over alleged drinking water contamination. State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, has publicly levied fraud accusations against the DEP for its practices and asked several agencies to investigate.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Western Pennsylvania is still reviewing the request, its spokeswoman in Pittsburgh said.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which accredits Pennsylvania's lab for the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program, will not investigate, its spokesman said Wednesday.

The state Attorney General's spokesman declined to comment. A regional spokesman at the Environmental Protection Agency could not be reached.

“The bottom line is that people have a right to know what DEP is testing for and what they're finding in their water, whether good or bad,” said Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus Shale Policy Associate in Pittsburgh who signed the letter for Clean Water Action. “If you're going to test for 24 contaminants, there's no good justification for not releasing all the results of those contaminants, good bad or otherwise.”

Some of the groups plan to protest the policy when department Secretary Michael Krancer speaks at an industry conference Downtown on Thursday, said Diane Sipe of Marcellus Outreach Butler.

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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