Ohio EPA letter unrelated to water crisis, Toledo officials sayWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo officials insisted at a news conference Aug. 8 that concern from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over conditions at the city’s water treatment plant are unrelated to last weekend’s water advisory.
“The algal bloom caused the issue,” said Department of Public Utilities Director Ed Moore. “The plant did not cause the issue.”
The Ohio EPA has raised concerns in a series of letters to city officials, most recently on June 9. The letter to Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins from Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler stated that the condition of Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant could “severely impact the City’s ability to provide adequate quantities of safe water to its citizens.”
“I cannot underscore boldly enough the precarious condition of Toledo’s drinking water system and the imminent vulnerability to failure,” Butler wrote.
The letter also noted the city did not appear to be “on a path to timely comply” with fixing “significant deficiencies,” outlined in previous letters.
On Aug. 8, officials said the city and Ohio EPA agree that repairs to the water treatment plant are needed but disagree on the design and timeline and are working together to resolve those issues. The city’s 20-year plan for repairing the plant will be accelerated to five years, to be completed by 2019, Moore said.
Officials said they realize there were issues with public communication during last weekend’s water crisis, but have learned from the experience and are working on creating improved communication and emergency response plans.
Regarding the testing of water samples, Dr. David Grossman, commissioner of the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, said Toledo’s former water test involved breaking open, or “lysing,” the cells to release all the toxic microcystin inside the algae in the sample.
However, confusion came about after the Ohio EPA ordered an “unlysed” sample to be tested, which would be expected to detect lower levels of microcystin than Toledo’s lysed sample, but in fact showed similar levels.
It was discovered that chlorine in the lysed samples was artificially lowering the toxin count to the level of an unlysed sample. When chlorine was removed from the sample — called quenching — the numbers came back as expected.
Toledo’s former practice was to test “nonquenched lysed” samples, or water treated with chlorine and cells broken open to release all toxin. The new state standard — developed as a result of Toledo’s water crisis — calls for testing “quenched unlysed” samples, or water with chlorine removed and cells intact.
The estimated cost of the water crisis is $270,000, said City Finance Director George Sarantou, which includes $73,000 for Department of Public Utilities overtime pay, $52,000 for Department of Public Services overtime pay, $48,000 Toledo Police Department overtime pay, $10,000 in Sheriff’s Department overtime pay and $10,000 to fly water samples to Cincinnati, Columbus and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for testing. Sarantou said he’s not sure if Toledo will be charged for flying the samples, but for now he’s including it in the costs.