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EPA Chastises PA’s Drinking Water Program

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (”EPA”) has informed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) that the lack of adequate staffing and funding threatens DEP’s ability to effectively implement safe drinking water programs in the Commonwealth. In a letter sent to DEP, EPA warns that “the minimum program requirements must be met in order for states to maintain primacy for the Safe Drinking Water Program.”

EPA expressed particular concern about DEP’s staffing levels. It noted that DEP inspectors were on the average responsible for 149 public water systems, more than twice the national average of 67 systems per inspector. EPA cautioned that this “excessive workload is not sustainable.” EPA also noted that Pennsylvania’s safe drinking water program failed to meet federal requirements for onsite review of water system operations and maintenance capability, so-called sanitary surveys. EPA warned that not completing these surveys can have serious public health implications. Finally, EPA noted that a large amount of material was missing from files related to Pennsylvania’s program to address lead and copper in drinking water.

EPA requested that DEP submit a written report by the end of February addressing these issues and provide a plan to secure resources to meet minimum program requirements. If these issues are not addressed to EPA’s satisfaction, it can assume control of Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water program. We note that EPA’s letter was sent prior to the beginning of the Trump administration. The impact of the change in administrations is uncertain.  Stock and Leader’s Environmental Law Group will continue to monitor developments in this area.

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