State urges speedier water alerts

MDE officials say lag in reporting elevated nitrate levels in Westminster was unacceptable

Baltimore & Region


Concerned that it took Westminster public works employees nearly a month to notify them about elevated levels of nitrates in one of the city's 11 wells, state officials say they need to put an end to such delays.

"For the sake of protecting public health, we can't afford lag times of almost a month in notifying MDE of a system's exceeding levels of nitrates. It's not acceptable," said Julie Oberg, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "We'll be working with the city of Westminster to ensure proper notification processes are in place so this does not happen again."

Westminster public works officials said, however, that they followed the state's procedures.

"My understanding is that as soon as we got results from the [second] sampling, we notified them," said Jeff Glass, assistant director of the city Department of Public Works. "To my knowledge, proper protocol was followed."

But MDE officials say they should have been notified of the Nov. 3 sampling within 24 hours of the city's receiving the results. Oberg said her office was not told of the elevated levels of nitrates until after the second sampling, which was taken Wednesday.

"It's too early to draw conclusions or point blame" about why it took so long for Westminster officials to notify MDE, Oberg said. "But we need to make sure there is a proper notification process so this doesn't happen again."

Westminster Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson said yesterday that he would welcome a meeting with MDE officials to evaluate how well the city is complying with the state's procedures.

"If we're wrong, we're wrong," he said. "I think it would be a very good idea ... to sit down [with MDE officials] and get an understanding of what the expectations and requirements are."

On Thursday, Westminster officials warned parents not to use its tap water for infants younger than 6 months old or to make baby formula or juices with it because of elevated levels of nitrate.

City officials issued the warning - the second incident involving the water system in less than two months - after taking a well that is part of the city's Cranberry Water System off line on Wednesday to flush out the nitrates.

When the well was taken off line, tests that day revealed a nitrate level of 10.7, while initial tests that were performed Nov. 3 showed a nitrate level of 10.5. The well will stay out of service until the city has two consecutive weeks of sampling below the maximum contaminant level of 10, Glass said.

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