DEP to fine Westmoreland County authority after boil-water order

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The state Department of Environmental Protection on Friday said it will fine the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County for not providing sufficient information in its initial notification to customers about a boil-water advisory last month.

DEP spokesman John Poister said the amount of the fine had not been determined.

But Chris Kerr, president of Resource Development and Management Inc., the firm that manages the authority, said it could be as much as $5,000. If a fine is levied, he said, his company will pay it so the authority doesn’t have to dip into its treasury.

The boil-water advisory was in effect for four days last month after state inspectors discovered a filtration problem. The advisory affected about 50,000 customers, most of them north of Route 30.

In initially notifying customers of the advisory, the authority failed to specify the possible contaminants involved and explain the potential health risks of ingesting them, Mr. Poister said. It would have been enough, he said, for the authority to have said that possible exposure to microorganisms and algae could result in cramps or diarrhea.

But omitting those details violated federal requirements, he said, adding that the authority eventually did discuss possible contaminants and health effects at a news conference and belatedly added the information to its website.

Mr. Kerr said his staff and DEP “had a comprehensive review of the authority’s actions over the four-day period, hour for hour.” He said DEP approved the technical aspects of the authority’s response to the filtration concern and the methods, such as website and phone, by which the authority notified customers of the boil-water advisory.

He confirmed that the website should have included information about contaminants and potential health risks.

“That one sentence was omitted,” Mr. Kerr said. “Because of that sentence not being there, they’re proposing to levy a $5,000 fine.”

Mr. Kerr said the authority wasn’t required to include that information in the phone calls to customers. “In the future, we would intend to put that on the robo-call as well,” he said.

Mr. Poister said the authority had other notification-related problems — its website crashed, and some customers complained that they didn’t get calls. He said the authority told DEP that it’s working to address those issues. Mr. Kerr agreed.

“We were successful in reaching 89.5 percent of our customers (by phone) and we’re making efforts to obtain the 10 percent of phone numbers we didn’t have,” he said.

Also, in a statement posted this week on its website, the authority said administrators “have had several meetings to review our response to determine where improvements can be made in our emergency response plan.”

Discussed were improvements to the website, sending notifications by text and email, incorporating Facebook and Twitter into the emergency-response plan and developing “more specific mapping” to better help the public understand affected areas.

The authority lifted the advisory Oct. 28, saying the malfunctioning filter did not cause any contamination.

Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548. First Published November 22, 2013 3:13 PM

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