COMMENTARY: Bob Rodericks on City Water Issue.
The following is a personal commentary by Bob Rodericks and does not necessarily represent the views of the East Providence Reporter.
East Providence Drinking Water Questions:
In an unsigned notice from the City of East Providence Water Utilities Division, dated February 6, 2018, some city residents were told, "Some people who drink water containing TTHM in excess of the MCL over many years may experience problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer."
The notice did stress that, "This is not an emergency. If it had been, you would have been notified immediately." The notice said that "East Providence has levels _of Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs) above drinking water standards. Our water system recently violated a drinking water standard. Although this is not an emergency, as our customers, you have a right to know what happened, what you should do, and what we are doing to correct this situation."
The notice also asks people to "share this information with all the other people who drink this water, especially those who may not have received this notice directly (for example, people in apartments, nursing homes, schools, and businesses)." Although the notice said some may not get this, the Post Office said everyone should get it soon.
Accordingly, I share this notice because I have heard from many who did not receive it. I did not receive it. The notice was addressed strangely, I believe. It was simply addressed to "Postal Customer, East Providence, RI 02914" (or Rumford, Riverside).
It was not sent to any of the thousands of residents who rent in the city or to schools, businesses or nursing homes, etc. While it may indeed not be an emergency as the notice says, it also gives rise to alarm. Alarm because of statements like, "If you have any specific health concerns, consult your doctor. We anticipate resolving the problem by August 2018."
The mention of the terms "cancer" and possible "problems with their liver, kidneys, or central nervous system, and may have an increased risk of getting cancer," are not heart-warming, confidence building thoughts.
People can't be blamed for feeling concerned. I trust, hopefully, that the problem does not present an immediate health concern, but the notification process had a lot of holes in it.
I did reach someone at the Water Department who said that it appears many in Riverside didn't get the notice because of a "postal backlog." The water department stated that 8,411 notices were sent to the 02915 zip code and many may still be backlogged at the Riverside postal branch. The city said some 23,000 notices were sent to be mailed out in total.
"This is the first water violation we've had since 2014. The concern is not grave and an "aeration system in the Kent Heights Tank is designed to significantly reduce DBP's. We anticipate resolving the problem by August 2018," said water officials.
As of Friday, 2/9/2018, at 10:00 am, the City website has made no mention of the water concern. If the people renting and schools and businesses didn't get a notice, it should have been on the City website.
Visitors to the web site clicking on the "Improving Your Water System" tab are greeted by a blank page. Schools were not noticed about this issue until school officials called the water department on Thursday, February 8th. "By noon time on Thursday, the schools received a copy of the notice," confirms the Water Department. The initial notice went out on February 6th.
All in all, I don't think the notification process was handled as well as it could have been. A reverse 911 system could be a better way along with the web site. The Riverside Post Office branch supervisor did confirm with me today that many notices are backlogged. "There has been a lot of mail recently. Legally our carriers can only carry 3 bundles at a time," said the supervisor. "They should all be out soon."
Let's look at this proactively with a goal of better notification, but there are serious holes in how this current warning message was sent out. It is concerning.