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City of Columbia admits to not testing water for lead, copper


City officials admitted Monday night to not properly testing drinking water for lead or copper over the past year.

The city received a report about the violation last week from the Department of Natural Resources.

A hundred water samples were supposed to be taken over a six-month period two times a year. They never were.

The city said in a news release late Tuesday that the samples were for monitoring water in homes. Water and Light will start testing in March and immediately publish the results, the city says.

Julie Ryan, a co-founder of COMO Safe Water Coalition went to the city council meeting to address these issues.

"For the 100 tests required for sixth months, the number taken was zero," Ryan said in front of the council. "Zero."

The COMO Safe Water Coalition is also advocating for the change of the sanitizer used in the city's water.

Right now, the chemical chloromine is used to sanitize the city's drinking water.

Using chloromine runs the risk of leeching harmful substances like lead and copper from the plumbing into the water.

According to Mayo Clinic, lead can have adverse health effects on people of all ages.

"We expect the report from City staff on the violation that they received from DNR on Friday afternoon by Monday," Mayor Barbara Buffaloe said in a written statement. "Once we know more about what happened and what will be done in the future to have it not happen again, I will have more information."

Buffaloe said in the email she asked staff whether regular testing of drinking water happens, and they said yes.

Buffaloe said the violation was a result of samples not being submitted to the Department of Natural Resources.

According to a city utilities spokesman, the state previously only required 50 tests over a three year period. That has now changed and requires 100 tests done every six months.

"I think there's a lot of confusion whether it was actually a requirement to be done annually or not," David Sorrell, the Director of Utilities said.

"They say that they didn't know about the regulations changing," Marie Thiffault, a co-founder of COMO Safe Water Coalition said. "The last report we have of lead and copper is back in 2019 - so what we'd like to know is where are the testing since, and how is it that we've spent the entire year not testing at all."

Sorrell said in front of city council Monday night that he would be conducting an investigation into the root cause of the miscommunication, and will come up with a documented plan on how to ensure this doesn't happen again.

City Utilities issued a statement Tuesday evening acknowledging the missed tests and said testing will begin in March. The department said test results will be published once they become available.

"Customers with immediate concerns can contact Deidra McClendon, Laboratory Supervisor, at 573.874.6242 or if they would like to have the water in their home tested," the release stated.

The release stated the city last completed lead and copper sampling in 2019, as required by the state Missouri.

"At that time, Water & Light did not find any concerns with the quality of the water," the statement says. "The City of Columbia water supply continues to be safe and to meet water quality standards. Water & Light staff take violations seriously and are evaluating the events which led up to this Notice, working with MDNR to put corrective action into place, and will implement further measures as necessary to prevent future recurrences.

"We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate the public’s patience as we work to improve service."

The city also ran afoul of DNR regulations in recent years when water main breaks resulted in large fish kills. DNR settled with the city for more than $10,000 last summer for breaks between 2017 and 2019 that killed more than 11,000 aquatic organisms.

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Ethan Heinz


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